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Decision-Making Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

788: Roger Martin Shares How to Make Better Strategic Choices By Rethinking Your Models

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Roger Martin reveals how to identify the unconscious mental models holding you back from more superior management effectiveness.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why people will resist correcting outdated models 
  2. Powerful questions to dismantle outdated models
  3. The simple word shift that makes you more strategic

About Roger

Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and in 2017 was named the #1 management thinker in the world. He is also former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada.  

Resources Mentioned

Roger Martin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Roger, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Roger Martin
It’s great to be here. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, so I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. Tell us, what’s the big idea behind your book A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness?

Roger Martin
The big idea is you got to be careful to not get owned by thinking models. You get told, “Oh, this is the way you should think about this problem.” If it doesn’t work, don’t go back and say, “Well, because people say that’s the model that should be used. Keep on using it.” That’s being owned by your model. Instead, you need to own your models. They need to work for you. And if they don’t, you need to change it. That’s the big idea.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Makes sense. Now, the word model, I figured we’ll be saying it a lot. So, could you give us maybe four or five examples of models that professionals use just so we have a real clear sense for what we’re talking about there?

Roger Martin
Sure. A model would be, in order to align the interests of management with shareholders, you should give them stock-based compensation, and that will create alignment. Or, you should always make decisions based on data. That’s the only good decision, that’s a decision made on data. That’s a model. The job of a corporation is to make sure it controls and coordinates the various businesses underneath it. That’s its primary job. That would be a model.

Another model would be customer loyalty is the most important thing about customers.

Roger Martin
Those would all be models that we use that then guide our behavior. So, if you say, “Oh, I must align the interests of management and shareholders with stock-based compensation,” you will have a stock compensation plan that’s based on the performance of the share price as a key feature of executive compensation. So, these models drive behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
So, is there any distinction, not to play too much of the semantic wordplay game, between a model and a rule or a principle?

Roger Martin
Not really. I guess what I would say is a principle tends to be a portion of a model. So, our principle is alignment, and the way we’ll make that happen is through stock-based compensation. So, you’ve got a principle that informs other aspects of a model. That’s how I would distinguish them. You could call a model and a rule kind of relatively similar.

I just think of a model not in a better way but it’s a slightly more comprehensive than either rule or principle. It’s a set of things that we will do because we say if we do those things, it’ll get the result we want.

Pete Mockaitis
And is it possible that we operate from some models that we’re not even aware of?

Roger Martin
In fact, we do that all the time. Let’s say you’re a CEO and you kind of walk into a retailer that sells your product, you don’t like how it’s merchandised, let’s say you’re a fashion line.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m fashionable. Okay, I’m with you.

Roger Martin
Yeah, exactly. Like you, Pete. And you go to the people who are running the store and say, “You, people aren’t following the corporate guidelines on this. I’m outraged, dah, dah, dah.” That’s a model. It’s a model that says it’s their fault, not yours. Your instructions weren’t confusing. Or, your way of merchandising actually doesn’t sell stuff. It’s, “You’re morons,” or you’re not so much morons, “You’re insubordinate,” in some way, “in not following it.” Your model is you have to observe when people are being insubordinate and not following instructions, and chastise them for doing so, and that will improve things.

Pete Mockaitis
And that we know best in terms of the optimal approach for merchandising versus that you may be in a surprise, like, “We tried your way but this way is 30% better, so we’re going that way.”

Roger Martin
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that executive probably wouldn’t have articulated that in the corporate jet on the way to visit the retail outlet, “My model is to make sure they’re obeying and to chastise them if they’re not.” But, in fact, that’s what naturally flows because, in fact, that is his or her, probably his, managerial model.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you say that folks have a tendency to double down under existing models even if they’re not working. What’s behind that?

Roger Martin
It just seems to be, Pete, a human tendency from what I can tell, which is we like to have models because, otherwise, you have to think about everything from first principles. So, you have a way of doing things, so there’s affinity with the idea of a model. And then there’s sort of social adoption. So, if everybody else is doing it, if everybody else is doing stock-based compensation, and there are stock-based compensation consultants who come and tell you how to do it, and the board gets evaluated on the basis of whether it’s got stock-based compensation, all that stuff.

If that becomes the standard, it’s easiest, that’s because we’re sort of social human beings to say, “Having a model is better than thinking from first principles and I might as well adopt the model that’s the one that’s being used most because that’s probably a good idea.” And so, you’re a plumber in ancient Rome, and all the other plumbers are saying, “This great material, lead, is really malleable and makes for good water pipes and so let’s do that, too.” And because, boy, it seems to work, ten years later all the people die from lead poisoning, but at the time it seemed like a good idea.

So, I think those two things cause people to feel a certain level of concern, anxiousness, outright fear when they have to do something other than the existing model.

Pete Mockaitis
What you’re saying there is in contrast to first principles really resonates. I’m thinking about when I was just getting my start, I’m thinking, “Okay, you don’t want to do the speaker-author, guru biz in terms of, ‘Oh, yeah, you got to have Twitter, you got to have a blog.’ Okay, so this is what I do.” And I didn’t really find those to be especially effective tools, versus reasoning it from first principles would suggest, “Okay. Well, fundamentally, what is my offer?”

“How is it distinctive from alternatives and competitives available? Who is my customer? What do they want? What are their preferences? How can I make my prospective customers aware?” And so, that is a whole lot more work than, “Oh, you got to have a Twitter, you got to have a blog.”

Roger Martin
No, no, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But it would’ve served me better.

Roger Martin
And that, if I can go on that, that makes for a very interesting case. What I’d say is you took something that maybe would’ve been a model that a consumer package goods company would utilize and ported it over to another domain rather than accepting the domain’s kind of model. And that I find is kind of interesting.

A similar story, as you may know, I was dean of a business school for 15 years, and that was my first academic. I was never dean before. And all the development people, the fundraising people came to me, and said, “Well, this is how you do it. Get a list made of all the rich people in the country, and rich graduates, and then you go ask them for money.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, “This is your job now.”

Roger Martin
And I was thinking, “Okay, like I know a lot of rich people, and let’s just put me in their shoes and say, ‘How appealing would that be to me?’ So, you’re going to come and see me because I’m rich, no other reason other than that, and because, apparently, I should want to give you money. All you have to do is ask and I’ll give it to you.”

And so, I said, “I guess you could do that but it doesn’t seem like a good idea. How about this as an idea? I find people who have means and have something that they’re really interested in that the school is also interested in, and let’s get them involved in that because they care about it and they want to be involved in that. And, in due course, they will say to us, ‘Can we support this cause in a greater way?’”

And all the fundraising people said, “Well, what does this guy know about fundraising? This guy is crazy.” Well, on the basis of that, we got the University of Toronto, which is a big gigantic university, have been running forever. University of Toronto is only a six-figure unsolicited gift ever, where it was not asked for. Its first seven-figure unsolicited gift and its first eight-figure unsolicited gift. Literally, one guy, he was into real estate and got involved…who didn’t think there was nearly enough good real estate courses producing the people, and Toronto is a big real estate town, producing the real estate folks. I said, “I agree. We need to serve the community. Would you be willing to teach a course if we got you the appropriate help?”

He did. He loved it. Students loved him. He started hiring all sorts of students from it. We hired other real estate professors. We got to a point where we were one of the best two or three business schools for real estate in North America. We then built a new building. And he came to me and said, “You probably need somebody to give you the cornerstone gift for this, the building, right?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Here’s eight figures.”

So, that was a different model, a completely different model than the dominant model because, in that case, I wasn’t even prepared to sort of spend my time on the dominant model because it just seemed silly to me. But you’re right, that requires thinking from first principles, which is not as straightforward. And if my approach had failed miserably, rather than succeeded, they would’ve said, “Yeah, he is a nut.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think there’s one reason right there, is it’s riskier to do something novel and different. And I’m thinking the old saw, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Like, “Yeah, that’s the thing. Yup, IBM, they make the business machines, that’s their name so buy them from there.” And so, I guess that’s one reason why folks might double down.

Roger Martin
It’s a perfect metaphor, “Nobody got fired, nobody ever got fired for using the dominant prevalent model of the day.” Full stop. So, absolutely. And that’s why I’m not saying to people in the book, “Whatever the dominant model is,” I don’t say reject it.

I say, “I could understand you trying it but just make sure you kind of write down, ‘What I expect to happen when I try this model,’ and then check what actually happened. And if there’s a big negative delta there, then here’s what I’d encourage you to do. Don’t just keep doing it because everybody else is doing it. That might be the time for you to think about, ‘Is there another way to think about it?’”

So, if the dominant model is working, keep doing it, is my view. It’s just when it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I was about to ask, how do we know if something isn’t working anymore? Are there any indicators or telltale signs it’s time to shift away? It sounds like one master key is simply write down in advance what you’re hoping the thing will do, and then check later, “Did it do the thing?”

Roger Martin
Yes. And that may sound kind of trivial but it doesn’t happy very often, Pete. And that leads to sort of…there are a bunch of human dynamics problems that you have to take into account. One human dynamic problem is human beings have an infinite capacity for expose rationalizing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Roger Martin
Right? You can expose rationalize anything. And we know this in a sad, sad, sad sort of way from war crimes trials, where often somebody is on the stand and who’s committed just a horrible, terrible crime that they know is horrible and terrible, but they rationalize it in saying, “Well, I had no choice.” So, you can rationalize anything.

And so, you have to help the mind not rationalize. And the only way I believe you can do that is by writing things out because, otherwise, if you say, “Oh, well, we’re going to build a new factory. And with that new factory, it’s going to cost $100 million but we’re going to increase sales by 50% within five years, and that will pay for the factory and a good return on our $100 million investment.”

If you don’t write that down, five years from now when sales are up 35%, you’re going to say, “Yeah, exactly. This is exactly what we said, sales increased 35%,” and you would never ask the question, “Hey, what didn’t go the way we thought that made it 35 rather than 50, which actually made it a return that’s below our cost of capital, not above our cost of capital?” You wouldn’t do that because it’s sort of lost in the mind’s mist of time what you actually thought your model was going to deliver for you.

So, I want you to write it down so that when it happens, you can compare what’s happened to that. And that will give you the information you need, “Did it perform the way I wanted it to perform, that I assumed it would perform when I used it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Is that sort of like the master key or any other key questions or things to do there?

Roger Martin
That’s the master key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you. Well, so could you maybe tie this together for us with a story of someone who they had an outdated model, and then they made a shift to a new way of thinking and got some cool results?

Roger Martin
Sure. So, I could talk about customer loyalty. So, the dominant model is that the most important factor for you in kind of being profitable is having high customer loyalty. And what that is, customer loyalty, is a conscious act. So, that would be, I don’t know, what toothpaste do you use, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Colgate Total, paste not gel. Thanks for asking.

Roger Martin
Perfect. Colgate Total paste. And so, it’s worked for you in the past, and so you are consciously driven to show loyalty to that brand when you go to the toothpaste aisle. You sort of consciously say, “Hey, I’m loyal to that. It’s worked well. I will do that.” It turns out that all the behavioral science, all that research is telling us that, actually, the much stronger driver of that habit is unconscious.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You’re right.

Roger Martin
It’s actually your unconscious. So, literally, the way the mind works for you, since you’re a Total Colgate paste, if your hand reaches for Total Colgate, or Colgate Total gel, your subconscious starts yelling at you, saying, “What the hell are you doing? The paste. Paste works. Paste is most comfortable. Paste is most familiar. You’re asking me to do something new. I’m worried. I’m nervous.” So, it’s actually an unconscious driver. And Lord forbid that you reach for Pepsodent or something else, then you’ve gone completely off the rocker, “Oh, my God, cats and dogs sleeping together.” It’s going to be horrible.

So, it turns out, the subconscious loves comfort and familiarity more than anything. So, what you want to make sure that you’re kind of not messing with is habit. And so, one thing that companies can’t help doing is refreshing and redesigning. And it turns out that colors and shapes are really important visual cues before you actually can read the lettering on most things. And that would be the case in Amazon when you see the little chicklet there. We first see colors and shapes. And so, when you change the color of something, or change the name of something to, it’s a huge negative for habit.

And so, Procter & Gamble, Tide, unbelievably profitable and venerable brand, have been around for 70 plus years. And what it turns out is that people have a Tide habit more than they are loyal to Tide. And so, when Tide, 40, 50 years ago, when the transition was starting to be made from powdered detergents to liquids, the first liquids came into being, Procter & Gamble said, “Okay, Tide is the dominant detergent, the largest market share, but people see that as a powdered detergent. And so, to make sure we do best in the now nascent liquid detergent business, what we need to do is have a brand-new brand new, it’s called Era, and that will be our liquid and Tide will be our powder.”

The Era launch was an unmitigated disaster. It never got any traction, anything. And then some bright person at Procter & Gamble said, “Hmm, what if we launched Tide liquid? And why don’t we put it in an orange bottle with the same logo, the bullseye logo kind of on it, and call it Tide, and put a little Tide Liquid beneath it?” Blammo, it quickly became the dominant liquid detergent brand and has been ever since. Why? Because people had a Tide habit, and they had a habit of buying the laundry detergent that was in orange with a bullseye on it, with four letters on it, Tide.

Then, as time went on, Tide did smart things like when they figured out how to put bleach in the Tide itself, in the detergent itself, so you didn’t have to have a separate bottle. They had learned their lesson. And guess what they called it?

Pete Mockaitis
Tide with bleach.

Roger Martin
Yes, that’s very good.

Pete Mockaitis
And then a Tide Pod.

Roger Martin
And a Tide Pod. But, every once in a while, they forget. And so, when they came out with the innovation of how to have a Tide, a detergent wash as well in cold water as in warm water, forgetting the lessons that they learned, they said, “You know, orange is a warm color, perfect for Tide. But cold, we need a cool color for that.” And so, they came up with a cold-water Tide, in what? Blue bottles. Guess how that went?

Pete Mockaitis
Not well.

Roger Martin
Not well. Disastrously bad. What was their incredibly insightful fix for that?

Pete Mockaitis
Go back to the old color.

Roger Martin
Put it in orange bottles, then it became the dominant cold-water detergent. So, that would be an example of a company that began to really understand at a deep level the power of habit over loyalty. Does loyalty matter? Yes, it for sure does. Having a warm feeling, a conscious feeling about it is good. But if you interrupt habit, and interrupt the subconscious, it overwhelms loyalty. Like, think about it, it’s amazing, at least to me. When you think about it, everybody who loved Tide, when you come up with Tide in cold water, which is an added feature that should make your Tide better, it flops because it’s in blue bottles? Holy smokes.

So, the dominant model tends to be, with marketers, “Oh, we have to refresh. Our logo is looking dated. We have to have a new logo. We have to have a new modern color scheme. Maybe we’ll even change the name of it.” All of that stuff is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad but it’s done all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, in terms of if habit is driving your beautiful market share position, then, certainly. I guess if you’re an upstart and there’s not very many people who’ve got the habits, and your colors and shapes aren’t nailing it amongst the consumers, well, then sure, have at it. But, yeah, I could see how it’s costly to shift there.

Roger Martin
And can I give an example on that, Pete, because it’s good? Myspace versus Facebook. Myspace, of course, was the dominant first kind of social media site, and, actually, in its peak year had more traffic than any other site of any sort, Google, anything. But if you look at the history of Myspace, Myspace kept, from day one, completely changing its look and feel so that there was no consistency, no consistency in the way things were presented, new features that were put on it. It was referred to in the press as a dizzying array.

Think then about Facebook. Like, it has utterly consistent look and feel from the word go, even when they made their painful transition where there was the only real dip in Facebook’s history was when they made the transition to mobile. Mobile looked just like look, feel, everything. Facebook understands habit. Myspace didn’t. Myspace is gone. Facebook is worth a trillion. It is so important. If you’re a startup, you must establish a look and feel.

Netflix did a good job of that. They changed their underlying product entirely but they kept as many other things consistent as possible that helped people kind of feel comfortable. And, again, it’s an issue of you feeling comfortable and familiar, not being upset. And for what it’s worth, this relates directly to RTO, return to office, because, in essence, you could argue that COVID was the greatest force habit break since at least World War II and maybe the Great Depression, where lots of habits just had to be broken.

And one habit that was broken was, people like you and me, and tens of millions of others, waking up every morning, getting in the car, or getting on public transit, and commuting to an office, and working all day in an office, and then commuting back at night. That was the habit. And this was a habit that had a bunch of negatives to it, especially if you lived in the greater New York area, greater Chicago area, greater L.A. area, it would be a painful long commute, but it became the ingrained habit. It was just you did it unthinkingly.

And then what happened was a force majeure break of that habit. You couldn’t blame your company on the habit being broken. It was the government saying, “You must do this.” And so, you had to adopt a new habit, which was painful. For many people, they said, “Oh, my God. Kind of working from home, I had a setup, I had to seize the guest bedroom, or seize the sun porch, or the kid’s basement play area, and turn it into my kind of Zoom office, instead of I couldn’t talk face to face with my managers and my employees, and, dah, dah, dah.”

But what happened after probably six months? It was your habit. It was like, “Oh, roll out of bed, make your coffee, go to the guest room, sit in front of my computer and do Zoom calls.” So, that became the new habit. So, that was first called working remotely and then became the new habit. Then, two years on, companies say, “You must return to office.”

They thought of it, these companies thought and still think of it as getting back to where we were, going back to what is standard, you being at the office. That is not, at all, what the subconscious thinks. The subconscious says, “Oh, my God, they’re making me do a brand-new thing. They want me to work remotely.” The office is the new remotely, and can you see, what happens with the habit?

The way to think about habit is that whatever you’re doing, your habit, so for you it’s Colgate Total paste, that’s your habit, and the alternatives are Crest and Pepsodent and Colgate Total gel, which apparently is abhorrent to you. And so, every time you have a purchase occasion, there’s a race and it’s a hundred-yard dash, and Crest and Pepsodent and Colgate Total gel are at the starting line, and Colgate Total paste is on the 90-yard line. And the gun goes off, and guess who wins?

If, for some reason, Colgate were to say, “You know, we’re totally tired of that Total name. We’re going to call it Colgate Fantastimo, and we’re going to change the paste. That paste is dull and old. And we’re going to make it sort of something that’s a combination of paste and gel, like in a twirl.” What they’ve done for Pete is moved the thing he automatically bought from the 90-yard line to the zero-yard line along with all the other alternatives. And you’ll win some of them because it’s a fair race at that point, but it goes from being a profoundly unfair race in your favor, if you’re Colgate, to a fair race. That’s what’s happening with the return to work.

Your job, which you had comfort and familiarity going for, that was Zooming from home and not doing the commute, that was on the 90-yard line, just got back put back to the zero-yard line, to be compared with, “I’m going to quit for a year. I’m going to find a new job out here in the burbs, or I’m going to change to a company that continues to allow people to work from home.” And so, it’s just massively destructive for the companies asking you to return to work.

And they think it’s disloyalty, “Pete is not loyal enough to come back to the office.” No, it’s habit. It’s Pete just has this visceral thing that he can’t necessarily even understand fully that says, “You know, Pete, it’s time to think about doing something else.” So, this misunderstanding, loyalty versus habit, is going to cause big American employers who are asking you to come back to the office massive turnover. The stats are 67% of people who are being asked to go back to work are considering alternatives.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great metaphor with the race and having a huge head start because it’s like, “Huh. Okay, so I have to do something different. Do I want to do that? Well, let’s look at all the options.”

Roger Martin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t ask any of those difficult questions, employee, and don’t just rock the boat.” Okay.

Roger Martin
And I can give a personal example. So, I’m a big of a sportsaholic, and I had a go-to sports app. It was CBSSports.com. I don’t even know why I started using it but it was the one I went to. And I put up with CBSSports.com IT people deciding that they would do refreshes and updates to make the site better and work better and everything. But then they came up with a total redo that they were exceedingly proud of. They sent me messages about, “Hey, get ready for the brand-new site. This is going to be awesome. The navigation, everything, was completely different. The look and feel, completely different.”

And after it being, I don’t know, seven-year a constant user of it, I just said, “Oh, okay. Now is the time to test out all the sports sites and see which I like best.” And now, on the first page of my iPhone is ESPN.com, and CBSSports.com has lost me, not forever. They’ve lost me until such time as ESPN screws up in the same way as CBS Sports did.

For the subconscious, possession is way more than nine-tenths of the law. I am an ESPN.com sports app guy now. And that game is over, it’s on the 99th yard line.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, rest in peace. You’ve got a chapter I find intriguing when it comes to strategy. You say, “In strategy, what counts is what would have to be true, not what is true.” And that is one of my favorite things to teach, so I want to hear you take the floor. What do you mean by this question, “What would have to be true?” How do we apply that when we are doing decision-making effectively?

Roger Martin
Yeah, most of strategy is about analyzing, doing analyses to come up with your strategy, a very analytical exercise, and most people who are going to strategy are kind of analytically inclined. Kind of the problem is, by analyzing what is, you’re never going to find out what might be. You’re never going to create the future, lead the future.

And so, rather than focusing on that, “What is true?” which will direct you towards what is and focus your mind on what is, if you ask the question instead, “What would have to be true?” you can imagine possibilities. You can say, “Here, I’m going to imagine we do this rather than what we’re doing now.” Now, if you just do imagination, you’ll come up with all sorts of crazy things that are just dumb ideas. But if you say, “What I’m going to do is ask, ‘What would have to be true about the industry? What would have to be true about the customers? What would have to be true if there’s a distribution channel, about our capabilities, about our costs, about competitors, for that to be a great idea?’”

Then you can create a logic structure that says, “If those things were true, that would be a great idea.” Then you can imagine another possibility, and say, “What would have to be true for that one? Well, if these other set of things were true, that would be a great idea.” You can do another one, A, B, C, you’ve got a third one, “What would have to be true for that?” Then you can ask the question, “Of those things that would have to be true, which are we least confident are true?”

And then we can focus our efforts on saying, “Well, if those things would be necessary for this to be a good idea, but aren’t true today,” sort of like we’re Steve Jobs, and it’s like, “Here’s an idea. Why don’t we sell people an MP3 player that is three times the cost of price of the best MP3 player out there? We’re going to make it white and have a wheel on it. How about that for an idea?” What would have to be true is people want to kind of throw money away, like they get three times X for an MP3 player with no greater capability than anybody else’s new technology anymore.

What would have to be true though would be, “This would be of greater use because they would be able to more seamlessly download songs in a more user-friendly way onto that machine. They can’t now. But how about we do this? How about we go to all the record companies and arm-twist them into selling single songs for 99 cents rather than an album, and we’ll put it on a site called iTunes and make it super easy for them to pay and super easy for them to download?”

So, he asked, “What would have to be true?” You’d have to have something special, then you go and figure out, “Can you make it true?” You figure out that you can, then you go do it. And, sure enough, you start selling the dominant market share of MP3 players, expanding the MP3 player market dramatically, and doing it at 3X the price.

That’s the power of saying not what is true but, “What would have to be true? And can we make it true?” And by asking, “What would have to be true for it?” you can focus your efforts on the few things that aren’t true now that you’d have to make true to create a great strategy. So, that’s why, “What would have to be true?” is way more powerful than “What is true?”

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. That’s fun in a creative invention, being ahead of the game, sort of a way. I’ve often asked myself this question just in terms of, “What would have to be true for this option to be worth picking?” and then sort of list those out, and say, “Okay. And then how can I test that?” And it’s amazing how you can figure out things to do and not to do.

One time I was trying to promote a book and I saw this publication that was distributed to a bunch of producers for radio and TV shows, and it was kind of expensive to be included in this, but I thought, “Okay. Well, this would be really cool if I got on a few shows, get the word out. This is probably a worthwhile investment.”

It wasn’t, I regret spending that money. But then, months later, someone called me and said, “Hey, Pete, I noticed that you were advertised in this publication. How did that go for you? Was it worth it?” I was like, “Wow, if I had followed my own sort of teachings, I would’ve done exactly what you did. What would have to be true? It’d get you a lot of bookings and sell a lot of books. How can you test that? Call some people who bought it and see if it worked out that way for them.”

Roger Martin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Of course.

Roger Martin
Yeah. And then this is what we did with the re-launch of Olay, creating this sort of masstige positioning of it, where you had a prestige, like a Nordstrom’s first floor or Macy’s, whatever, experience in your Walgreens or your Target. And it wasn’t true that there was such an experience, nor was it true that retailers would say, “Yes, that’s a great idea.” But we went to Target, did an arrangement with Target where we helped fund a transformation of some stores to test out the idea. The product flew, I mean, flew off the shelves in the test, and then the rest is history.

Target said, “How fast can we do all the rest of the stores?” and then everybody else said, “Why are you, bad people, just doing something with Target and not with us?” And we said, “Well, because they said they would do it. Are you saying you’ll do it?” “Yes.” And, blammo, it turns the seventh-, eighth-place skincare product into the number one skincare brand on the face of the planet massively profitable. But it was asking, “What would have to be true?” and then figuring out a way to test that.

You’re not going to test it by launching a product nationally everywhere where you don’t have the experience. You work and spend some money. You spend some money and time with Target to figure out if you could make it true. Would it succeed?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, Roger, tell me, anything else you want to put out there before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Roger Martin
No, I think you’ve done a really nice job of talking us through the core essence of the book, so, no thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. All right. Well, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Martin
I guess I would go all the way back to JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” because it is consistent with the advice that I give all my students and proteges, “I follow the doctrine of relentless utility. If you’re just relentlessly useful, good things will happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a particular favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Roger Martin
The favorite piece of research that I ever did in my entire career was in ’89 when I convinced somebody at Procter & Gamble to do a study that they didn’t want but that I knew there was something we would find.

The question was, “How should Procter & Gamble think about its customers?” Now, they consider you, Pete, although you don’t buy Crest, they consider you a consumer, and they consider Walmart, Walgreens, etc. customers. And at that point, they said, “Well, we’ve got mass merchers like Walmart and Target, drugstores like CBS and Walgreens, and supermarkets like Ralph’s, Kroger’s, Whiteman’s, etc. and we’ve got C stores.” And it just struck me that that wasn’t the right way to think about it.

And so, I just started looking at their top hundred customers, and trying to figure out whether there’d be a better way to think about it. And one day, it struck me that maybe a better way to think about it is, “What is the merchandising philosophy of the customer base?” because what was emerging then, because Walmart was still very small then but growing quickly, was this notion of EDLP, every day low pricing. And Walmart, and a bunch of other chains were doing EDLP, and everybody else was what was called high-low. They have things that are high price most of the time, and then have it on deals for part of the year.

And the entire CPG industry was set up, including Procter, was set up to support high-low.

The idea at P&G at the time was, “These high-low people are more like us, like Whiteman’s and Ralph’s, they’re differentiated. And these EDLP guys, like Walmart and Foodline and a few others at the time, they’re sort of these big brick warehouses and cinder block kind of warehouse look and places, and they’re down and dirty. And so, they’re not really like us.”

So, anyway, did the study and looked at those two segments, and came to the relatively stunning conclusion for Procter & Gamble, that the same store sales growth in high-low, all of their high-low customers together, the same store sales growth of their customers was zero. The same store sales growth in EDLP was 7% a year, compound. The growth in stores in high-low was net zero, and it was 7% compound annual for EDLP.

And then what I discovered was our market share, cutting category, I just added them all up, our market share in EDLP was higher than our market share in high-low.

And on the basis of that, and probably other stuff, Procter & Gamble was the first CPG company to flip and orient all of their systems to serve EDLP, and that got them a jump in their north American sales growth in the ‘90s, which was, especially the first half. It was phenomenal because, while everybody else was sticking with their sort of high-low focus, they were EDLP, and that’s when they created the Walmart team that put a whole bunch of people that enabled to kind of work closely with them.

So, that’s my favorite piece of analysis I ever did because it helped transform the way Procter thought about its customers in a way that it almost benefitted them for a while. Now, everybody else figured it out in due course. They had to move on to what the next thing that’s going to move the needle but I always liked that and I liked it because it was so hard to convince anybody there to let me do the study.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Roger Martin
They’re sort of nerdly but probably John Dewey’s Art as Experience. That was life changing for me. If you’re less nerdly, Lord of the Flies, my favorite fiction book, William Golding. And the best I’ve read recently, though it’s an old book that just came to my attention recently was the Social Limits to Growth by a guy named Fred Hirsch. Fantastic book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Roger Martin
I guess it’s my relatively new MacBook Pro 13 inch.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Roger Martin
To my website. All my writing is organized on that, and that’s www.RogerLMartin.com. And you got put the L in or it’ll take you to a real estate broker in Houston, who’s very nice. Roger Martin is a very nice guy. He sends me all sorts of emails that come his way. I send him my books. He likes my books and reads them, and so we have a good friendship but it is strained by the number of people who forget the L. So, RogerLMartin.com or @RogerLMartin is my Twitter handle.

And I write a, web is increasingly popular, weekly piece on Medium, if you’re a Medium person, called Playing to Win Practitioner Insights series, 89-long, 90th the coming Monday. So, those would be the places to find me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Roger Martin
Yeah, relentless utility. Think first about, “Am I being useful? Can I say from other people’s perspective I am providing utility?” And if you do that, good things will happen to you. Don’t sweat anything else. Just be relentlessly useful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Roger, thank you. it’s been a treat. I wish you much fun and interesting new ways to think.

Roger Martin
Terrific. Thanks for having me.

752: How to Reframe Rejection, Beat Burnout, and Get Unstuck with Lia Garvin

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Lia Garvin talks about the mental shifts that are crucial to moving forward at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key phrases to avoid at work  
  2. The questions to ask when you’re stuck
  3. How to overcome impostor syndrome 

About Lia

Lia Garvin is an operations leader, speaker and executive coach on a mission to humanize the workplace, one conversation at a time. She has nearly 10 years of experience working in some of the largest and most influential companies in tech including Microsoft, Apple and Google to explore the power of reframing to overcome common challenges found in the modern workplace. She is a TEDx speaker, presenting a talk at the 2022 TEDx Conference in Boca Raton, and will be featured at the SXSW Conference in Austin in 2022.

Through her writing, leadership coaching and program management skills, she helps teams examine the challenges that hold them back and focus on what matters. She was recognized by the National Diversity Council as a 2021 DEI Champion. She is also a Co-Active- and ICF-certified professional coach with a certification in Hatha yoga. She lives in Corte Madera, California.

Resources Mentioned

 

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Lia Garvin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lia, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much. Excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to discuss getting unstuck. But, first, I think we need to get to the bottom of is it true that you are descended from one of the 300 Spartan warriors?

Lia Garvin
Well, that’s what they tell me. So, my mom’s family is Greek, from Sparta. We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. And when the movie 300 came out, my mom was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s us.” And I said, “Okay, I don’t have any historical documents to prove it.” But, one day, I was heart-set on figuring out that 300 ab-training workout that all of us did to prepare, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There were impressive physiques in that.

Lia Garvin
Yeah, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure a number of personal trainers had a lot of work associated with making that movie.

Lia Garvin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so tell us, you’re an expert on getting unstuck, and you wrote the book called Unstuck. Can you start us off by sharing a particularly maybe surprising or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about why it is so many of us find ourselves stuck?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, I think one of the main reasons I’ve found myself getting stuck and other people getting stuck is because we keep approaching a situation through maybe we try things a little different but we’re still tackling it from the same perspective or the same way. Or, we adjust something small but if we took a step back, we realize we’re actually still doing the same things.

And so, reframing, which is the central theme of my book Unstuck is about looking at a challenge or situation through a whole new perspective, something that we haven’t tried before, and then seeing all that’s available there. And when we look at something through a new perspective, needless to say, new things become possible.

And I would say one area that I think so many of us get stuck around is feedback – feedback at work. Thinking feedback is a criticism, feedback is someone coming to me to tell me all the things they don’t like about me, or someone picking on me or pulling things apart. I think when we get positive feedback, people can also have a little bit of trouble with that even, like, “Okay, they’re happy with this now but what about next time?”

And so, I think, especially things around feedback, all of these beliefs that we have get us really stuck in this narrow way of thinking. And, really, a surprising discovery I had around something like feedback was it’s actually an insight into what the other person, what the feedback-giver believes, and what they want and what they’re comfortable with. It’s really not about us.

And, recently, I had a situation where I was changing roles and I had said I was moving on, and the manager I was working with, we had a good relationship. He was disappointed but supportive of that, and then he said, “Hey, before you go, let’s have a feedback conversation,” and my stomach dropped, and I was like, “Why do I have to have a feedback conversation with someone I’m not even going to work with anymore?” And I went really negative with my thought process, like, “Oh, my God, is he going to tell me all the things he didn’t like about me or all the things I did wrong?” And I went immediately into the dread zone.

And, first, I tried to reschedule it and not have the meeting at all but he ended up rescheduling it, so that was out of the question. And then when it was leading up to the conversation, I was thinking about, “Okay, it’s going to be a two-way street. What should I share? I want to bring in empathy and be specific, all the things I know about feedback,” but still I was really, really dreading it.

And then we had the conversation and he ended up sharing a piece of feedback that just really made me laugh and proved that it was all about my perspective. And that was he had said, “Sometimes when you deliver a piece of work, it looks really done and really polished. I’m not sure how to give feedback. Like, is it in progress or is it super final?”

And I laughed to myself because, well, I had done work that way because of other feedback I got from other managers that said, “Hey, I want something final. It’s got to be polished. I just want to sign off.” And I realized, like bringing…kind of being trashed by different pieces of feedback, and that it wasn’t about me. It was just about how this particular person likes to work or how they like to engage with work.

And when this example hit, I realized it is so not about who we are as a person, what we bring. It’s about getting on the same page with someone else around shared expectations. And that has made me a lot more comfortable with having a feedback conversation because, first, I can level-set and say, “Hey, what are we talking about here? What does success look like?” And then we can sort of word-off future feedback by getting really aligned upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a really cool example in terms of your book, the subtitle there is Unstuck: Reframe your thinking to free yourself from the patterns and people that hold you back. And feedback is a really great area where we can have patterns and associations. And if you avoid it all the time, that’s sure going to hold you back, like, “Oh, I feel so uncomfortable. They’re going to judge me. They’ll tell me all the things I’ve screwed up. I’m not into it.”

Versus if you have a different…reframe that perspective, you’d be like, “Okay, feedback is not so threatening, and, thusly, I’m able to go get more of it, and, thusly, I’m able to align on expectations, and, thusly, people think I’m amazing, and then promotions and good things can flow from that.” So, that’s cool.

Well, so then I’m curious, so that’s a cool example. Was that what you would call the big idea behind your book Unstuck that there are some key things to reframe that will unlock a lot of goodies? Or, how would you articulate the main idea or thesis here?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I’d say the main idea is when we find ourselves stuck, to reframe the way that we’re looking at that situation. And by reframing our perspective, we unlock a new set of possibilities. And I take that reframing thesis and apply it to 12 different challenges that show up most commonly in the workplace. So, we talked about feedback. Another one is articulating your impact, like talking about your work in a way other people understand that doesn’t diminish the importance of it, that really demonstrates the work you put in.

I talk about negotiation, another really tough subject for a lot of us out there, decision-making, comparison, and 12 challenges that I think most of us get stuck with in the workplace, things that can be particularly fraught for women in the workplace because of all of the expectations and biases and societal norms and these sort of narratives that we often hear throughout our upbringing that we start to attach to or believe with feedback, sort of having to be perfect or that everybody has to like you, or some of these things that many of us might believe from our upbringing can make it even harder to hear feedback.

With an example like talking about your work, some people have trouble talking about themselves at all, and then talking about our work and why it’s awesome and why it’s important and why it should be noticed, that can be really, really difficult for people. So, the reframing, it’s couched in the acknowledgement of these biases and double standards, and how our inner critic really attaches to these, and make these challenges even harder.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love it. It’s so powerful that in each of things, like I can see how you can have a mindset, a frame of perspective, that is troublesome like for articulating impact. Your frame of perspective might be, “Oh, I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to be seen, like, ‘Oh, he or she thinks that they’re just all that, like they’re so special.’ I don’t want to be conceited. I don’t want to be that guy or girl, who just makes it all about them, and it’s just really, really unattractive.”

So, that can be a frame of perspective you have. And if you have it, you’re not going to be articulating your impact and then, unfortunately, some key decision-makers who can have some keys to your fate with regard to promotion or opportunities just won’t know that you’ve got the goods and may very well be ready for a cool new thing if they never heard that impact that was never articulated.

So, I love this, how we’ve zeroed in on a tool that has a whole range of impacts – reframing. So, help us out here. Maybe let’s talk specifically about articulating impact, and then maybe zoom out a little bit in terms of, okay, when we need to get our reframe on, how do we go about doing that?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, articulating your impact, this is a funny one because this is something I struggled with a lot in coaching and in working with folks internally, especially in larger companies where you have to do things like performance reviews. I saw this just being a huge struggle that folks dealt with, really no level of seniority they even were in an organization.

And when I think about articulating your impact, I look at it in a few ways. First, it’s about really shaping the narrative around your work. And this means not talking about our work in like, “I do these set of things,” like a bulleted list of random tasks or ideas. But figuring out what is the arc across your work, what is the why behind it. And then, most important, how to connect that why to what your organization cares about because that’s where…

Like, you talked about getting in front of decision-makers, people that hold the keys to things you want to unlock in your career. If we don’t connect the dots there, we’re leaving it someone else to figure out the why it matters. And we are always best equipped to talk about why our work matters. And, yes, it’s helpful to have other people championing us and sponsoring us and bringing visibility to our work, too, but we have to have that story figured out.

So, my first step there is to really understand what you do, why it’s important for your organization, the goals that your organization has, and connecting the dots there, and then to be talking about it, not shouting over the rooftops everywhere all the time but making sure that that’s known by decision-makers, by people that are responsible for making decisions related to your career and what kinds of projects you work on, things like that, so that they know and can propose you for projects or opportunities.

The other piece around impact is really getting more precise with some of the language that we use when talking about our work. And one phrase I ask people to strike from their lexicon completely is helping out. Like, no one’s helping out. We’re at work. This is our job. It’s our careers. And I think we can get in the habits and trying to sound collaborative, like a team player, using words like helped out, pitched in, worked on. And, like, worked on, what does that mean? Are you owning this whole project? Did someone like send you an email that you read about it? What does that mean?

And so, getting really specific and owning the verbs. I coach folks around performance reviews. Authored, led, drove, facilitated, brought to light, there’s a lot of really powerful verbs we can use that weren’t helping out, was in a volunteer project. And so, that’s where I always start. And then, also, removing we. I think this is the trap a lot of “us,” a lot of people can fall into is saying we, when really, “I did it.” And, again, there’s a way to talk about being a part of a group and a collaborator without making it really unclear what your individual impact was.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s so much good stuff there. When you talk about owning the verbs, I’m thinking about this Onion article about verbs on resumes, and they were just absurd, like, decimated, whatever. Hey, talk about Spartans, huh?

Lia Garvin
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very specific in terms of, okay, when it comes to articulating impact, it’s not about, “Hey, you’re bragging, you’re selfish,” but, rather, we’re informing people and we’re just getting clear in terms of we didn’t just help out or worked on something. What that even means is pretty fuzzy. So, as we get specific, folks understand really what you did and, thusly, what maybe skills, experiences, and opportunities may just make a lot of good sense for you.

And so, I’m curious, you’ve shared right then and there, “Hey, here’s a great perspective to have,” as opposed to the, “Oh, no, I don’t want to talk about myself.” How do you recommend that we, generally speaking, if we find ourselves stuck somewhere, how do we know that we’re stuck? And then how do we go about getting to a better frame?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. Well, I think one way to recognize we’re stuck is when we keep running into the same outcomes that’s not what we wanted. And one example is with, let’s say, we keep asking our manager for new projects or a promotion, and we keep hearing, “It’s not time yet. You’re not ready yet.” Or, another is, “I applied for many years to work in tech, and I kept sending the same kind of resume, and I didn’t get there.”

And, for me, personally, it took a lot of stopping and examining my approach. So, I think, first off, it’s about recognizing, after one or two or maybe three times of hitting this wall, and pausing, and asking ourselves, “What is the approach I’ve been using?” and then the question, “What else can I try?” And the real reframing question is really, “How else can I look at this approach?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about reframing rejection, and an example, applying to work in jobs in tech for a number of years; sending out the manuscript for my book to many agents and publishers and not getting a yes; applying to do a TEDx Talk for several years, not getting yes. These are three things that I had done over and over and over and kept getting nos. And it was in these moments, instead of saying, “Screw it. I give up. No one wants me. No one likes me. My work sucks. I don’t care. I give up,” saying, “Huh, I’m getting a signal, and now I have to shift how I’m approaching this.”

And the shift in the approach is the reframe. And with a job, maybe you look at, “Okay, I’m going to try a different way of writing an email when I reach out to a recruiter, or changing out my resume, or share it with a friend to look at, like, ‘Hey, is something we missed here?’” With my TEDx Talk, I found a coach and I worked with someone that was able to really help me unlock how to tell my story in a better way. And with my book, continuing to reframe, “Is it my proposal? Is it how I’m pitching it? Is it this?” because the reframe is really about shifting and not just doing the same thing over and over.

And I think the definition of stuck is when we aren’t able to do a new thing, is when we’re not seeing that we have to shift that perspective. And it does take being a little bit intuitive, trying to be more self-aware. And so, like kind of a quick tip I would say is checking in with ourselves when we’re feeling really down or we’re feeling frustrated, and saying, “Hey, what’s going on here? Am I falling into the same patterns? Have I got a second? No. Did I really shift my approach or did I kind of just sent out the same cover letter because I didn’t feel like writing a new email?”

And being really honest with ourselves on, “How far have I shifted the approach to really get in the zone of newness where I can say, ‘Yeah, I really did give this a new…I really did try this through a new lens.’”

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess it’s also I really like your perspective about working with a coach there in that sometimes we might not know what results are good versus not yet. For example, let’s say, I don’t know, if someone is like new to sales, and like, “I don’t know, man. I’ve called like 50 people. I’ve only made six sales.” And it’s like, “That’s fantastic. You’re doing…”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, that’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re like, “It’s like almost 90% of the time, they’re just like bail on me.” And so, I think it’s so good to get some perspective, whether it’s like there’s some published benchmarks or figures or you just talk to someone who’s gotten the result that you want, or someone who’s got a whole business around coaching or providing expertise on a matter, can really be handy.

And then I’m curious, when it comes to the approach and the shift, I guess I’m thinking about almost like the reframing in terms of our internal beliefs and emotions about a thing. Like, even if someone tells us, like, “Oh, this is how it’s done.” You’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like that. Well, that still feels uncomfortable to go get that feedback.”

I remember, for example, I was reading a book, I think, it was about nonprofit fundraising. It might’ve just been called Asking, it might’ve been by Jerry Panas. It might not have been. But he had a reframe in terms of it’s not that you’re hounding people for their money because that’s no fun for anybody. What you’re doing is, in fact, it feels great to give to a cause that you believe in, that you support, and then you see some cool results or social good unfolding from, “Ooh, I had a little part in that.” That feels great as a donor.

And so, as an asker, what you’re doing is you are inviting people to a party, and they’re like, “You know what, that’s not my style of party. I don’t really like horror movies. I don’t like costumes,” whatever. You’re inviting them to a party, and those to whom it’s a good fit will accept the invitation and be so glad that you did. And so, that really worked for me and I got a lot more comfortable asking people for money after that.

And so, I’m intrigued about sort of like the mental-emotional game and how we work on that before, if we need to, before we’re comfortable shifting tactics.

Lia Garvin
Yes, so I love that. And I think that example is the…it’s about that perspective mindset shift. And so, recognizing what’s actually kind of at the base of what you’re trying to do, and a lot of that can connect to, you said, “What is the why behind what you’re doing?” This is about connecting people to something they enjoy. For example, feedback is about getting insight into how you’re being perceived. Talking about your work is about bringing visibility to like the output that you have.

Negotiating is about ensuring that you are getting sort of the right, fair, equitable outcome, maybe it’s financially, maybe it’s not, like for whatever you want it. It’s typically can be mutual beneficial, and I think it’s depersonalizing from all these things because when we attach, like, “I don’t like to ask for money,” you’ve sort of made it about you when the whole thing has nothing to do with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s for the children or whoever the beneficiaries are for the organization.

Lia Garvin
Right. And so, I think it’s the first step in that mindset shift is to detach, and I have a chapter about reframing the ego because a lot of this is an overidentification of, like, “I’m at the center of whatever it is going on.” And when we can get some space there, we see, well, first of all, everybody’s at the center of their own universe, and so we’re not alone there. But it actually is somewhat of an ego issue of seeing ourselves. And having ego, sort of overinflated ego, if you will, it doesn’t mean that we think we’re the greatest person on Earth, but we’re looking at things from a me-centered approach is what that means, and from a me-centered lens, I mean.

And so, to recognize, “Hey, I’m making this about me and what I want and what I think and what I worry.” And so, I’ve been saying, “What is this really about?” that’s how we start to shift that perspective. And I would say that’s the first place to start is when another signal beyond feeling stuck and kind of generally crappy, it’s like, “Ooh, all this is leading to me and I need to get a little distance,” and then we can start to see what else is there.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot with the me-centered lens because I think with negotiations, it’s like, “Oh, no, I don’t want them to think that I’m greedy, I’m not satisfied, I’m entitled, they think I’m just all that.” But, again, that’s all me-centered, like, “I’m worried about the judgments they’re making on me.” But if I shift that perspective on negotiation, it’s sort of like, “Well, no, if I bounce six months from now because someone else pays me a lot more and kind of has more cool things that I’m looking for and opportunity, they’re going to be bummed.”

And like, “Oh, man, we’ve invested all that stuff into Pete and now he’s gone, and I got to go through this whole hiring process all over again.” So, if I shifted from me to them, it’s suddenly like, “Well, no, it’s in their interests to give them a package, for them to provide a package that makes me go, ‘Sweet! This is a good deal. I like working here.’” Well, so far, hopefully, you know the people all around.

Lia Garvin
Exactly. You’re ensuring you have a mutually beneficial agreement that everybody is satisfied with. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, not to bounce around too much, but you mentioned a few key reframes, and I love decision-making so much. So, Lia, we got to hear what you have to say about that.

Lia Garvin
Well, decision-making is one I struggled so much with that that’s actually what my TEDx Talk was about. That’s going to be coming out in a few weeks. And I have a couple of reframes. One with decision-making is about reframing the finality of decision-making. We can’t predict the future, so when we think about decisions as, “Oh, my God, if I decide this, then, then, then, then, then,” and we cascade down this sort of spiral of what’s going to happen. We’ve, essentially, decided we can predict the future, and we know exactly what’s going to happen. And so, I think reframing and realizing, decision-making is about finding the right decision for right now. We can start to feel a little space and freedom from having to have every decision be perfect.

Now, the second reframe on decision-making, in the same similar vein, is to look at where our confirmation bias is landing. Now, we typically have confirmation bias around the decisions that we make, and for a lot of us it’s negative. And if we’re agonizing over a decision, and we have a lot of doubt about it, we can think, like, “Should I buy this thing? Should I take this trip? Should I order this dinner?” whatever. We can start to fixate on, I think, depending on how uncertain we are, if it goes wrong and we don’t like it, it’s all, “I knew it, I shouldn’t have done that,” and we’re looking for all the reasons why we knew we were going to be wrong, and we’re wrong, and it sucks, and it’s bad.

And my challenge to people is to test out, try on a positive confirmation bias. And, instead of saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t have ordered that burger. I should’ve gotten the salad because now I have a stomach ache,” or whatever, we say, “That was awesome. I got to try something new.” Instead of saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t have bought that,” “Hey, I really wanted this thing, and I was really happy to be able to get this for myself.”

And then when we change that mindset from looking for all the reasons it was bad and we were wrong and we’re bad decision-makers, looking for some of the signals why it was good or positive or we made the right call. Because, again, we have just as likely the ability to predict if it’s going to go poorly with a decision that it’s going to go well, yet we attach the negative. And then when we think it was going to be bad, we’re going to want to believe that because our brain likes to be right. And so, I challenge people to try to be right in a way that doesn’t make them feel terrible, especially with the pretty trivial day-to-day decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. So, feel right, feel good. And then I’m thinking we’ve had Annie Duke on the show, the professional poker player who writes about decision-making and such, and some other decision folks, and they’ve talked about keeping a decision journal, and like, “What was I trying to think through and how did it go?” And so, that’s sort of a different goal, which was improving the skill of decision-making, which, in a way, takes a lot of the sting out right then and there. It’s like, “Well, yeah, I expect I’m going to miss some, so that’s fine, and here’s what happened.”

But if it’s inconsequential, yeah. Go ahead and feel good about it. No need to analyze, and, “What should I have asked the waiter so as to not have gotten this tummy ache?” That’s probably not worth your mental energy and angst. I also love that take about for right now. And sometimes I find when it comes to like starting and stopping subscription services, I don’t know why I get really frozen sometimes, in terms of like, “Oh, I don’t know. I might use it any day now, so I don’t really want to cancel it.” And I’m like, “Well, Pete, you haven’t used it for the last two months, so you’re just kind of burning money. That’s silly.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah, but I think once this process gets set up then it will just be perfect.”

And so, the notion of for right now has saved the day a number of times. It’s like, “Well, hey, this month, I want to use the thing, so let’s pay for it. And if I don’t think I’m going to need it next month, I’ll cancel it. And if it turns out I was mistaken, I can un-cancel it.” It’s fine. It’s not like, I don’t know. I’m thinking about like flip-floppers. Like, in politics, we shame the flip-flopping candidate or job hoppers, on HR it’s like, “Ooh, hmm, I don’t know about this trend. It seems like you’re just hopping around and not committed.” Like, there’s no tribunal judging us about our subscription membership or what we get on a menu or any of this stuff, it’s like, “For right now, does this maybe work for you or not?”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s talk a little bit about some emotional stuff when it comes to the inner critic and impostor syndrome. How do we wrestle with that? And what can we do to feel more confident?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, inner critic, I think that’s another one where we need to build some tools around how to recognize when it’s the inner critic talking versus our regular rational, risk-deciding or navigating mind. And I think one signal that the inner critic is talking is when we’re talking absolutes, when we’re saying, “I always,” “I never,” “They always,” “They never,” and that’s really a quick signal to see if, “Are we in this sort of negative space or the inner critic?”

I think when we’re noticing that we keep running into the same sort of outcomes with the conversation we’re having with people, with the approach we’re trying, again, I think it’s when we’re stuck in this judgment zone. And one tool that I learned that I think is another really simple shift is reframing the questions we’re asking ourselves from why to what. When we’re stuck in this self-judgment shame spiral, a lot of times we’re asking, “Why did they do this to me? Why did this happen? Why me?” And these are all just iterations of, “Yeah, why me?” in different flavors.

And when we’re in “Why me?” zone we are not going to get out. We’re not going to be able to see what’s possible. We’re not going to be able to see other perspectives because we talk about reasons for why everything is bad. Now, if we shift the why question to what, “What happened? What might be going on with the other person?” ideally, that we say, because we can bring some empathy into the mix, then we start to see, “Okay, there’s something outside of me that can get me out of this spiral with the inner critic.”

For example, if a coworker sent us a sort of, what we feel, is a passive-aggressive email, we say, “Why did they send that to me? Why are they always doing this to me? Why are they always picking on me?” We’re just going deeper in the reasons why we hate this person. But if we say, “Gosh, what might be going on with this other person?” we might realize, “Okay, well, they’re under a lot of pressure from their boss. They’re under a big deadline.”

Or, “Gosh, their kids are at home for like COVID school closures, and they’re really stressed, and they’re just trying to fire off a quick email between meetings so they can get back to whatever they got to deal with.” We start to both have empathy, we start to, again, make it less about ourselves, we talked about ego, and just be able to see that there’s more besides the conclusion that it’s “Because everybody hates me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I don’t know, this is almost passive-aggressive the way I’ve done this at times but I remember I got an email that made me angry, and I really tried. I was like, “Okay, try some compassion, think about the other person.” I was like, “You know what, it must be really hard for that person living their life as a stone-cold jerk, all the relationships and friendships they’ve missed out on.”

And so, in a way, I don’t know, it’s a little…I don’t even know about myself how authentic I’m being, like, “Am I still just trying to judge them, and be mean, stick it to them?”

Lia Garvin
Well, you made it not about you. So, you made it not about you.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t make it about me but, it is true. Like, at times, that does work in terms of mustering some genuine compassion and empathy for, “Yeah, maybe they’re just busy when they dashed off that email that was kind of rude. Or, maybe this is just sort of a blind spot in terms of their skillset in general. Or, maybe they’re under a particular acute stress.” But in any of those circumstances, you could find some compassion for, “Oh, that’s tricky.” And sometimes it might start a little bit barbed, like, “Oh, it must be so hard to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder to then being someone a bit more genuinely authentically passionate for that situation.” That’s good.

Lia Garvin
Yeah. And the last thing you asked about impostor syndrome, and I think the related piece there is impostor syndrome is, “Everybody’s watching me, waiting for me to mess up,” feeling, it’s back to this that everybody’s watching us. It’s back to that sort of over sort of like heightened sense of ego that everybody is watching and waiting and looking at everything that we’re doing.

And so, again, this getting a little bit of space from our ego is a really powerful tool for overcoming impostor syndrome because we can realize that it’s really likely not everybody’s watching, waiting for us to mess up because, again, everybody is focused on their own stuff. And if people are nitpicking mistakes or kind of being hypervigilant on our work, that’s a separate thing that we can tackle but it’s not about…but it’s different than impostor syndrome, because impostor syndrome or experience is really like believing that without a ton of evidence.

And so, again, I think this distancing ourselves from the “I” and the “me” and the ego is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found for overcoming impostor syndrome, and saying, “Hey, I’m not in the center of the universe, and that is amazing and liberating, and I like it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. My mom said one of her favorite quotes, I don’t remember who said it, was, “We wouldn’t worry how much other people…we wouldn’t worry what other people thought about us so much if we realized how seldom they did.”

Lia Garvin
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Zing. You’re right, they’re not thinking about you that much. That’s good. Well, Lia, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, to check out Unstuck. It comes out April 5th, available for preorder now. And I would love to hear people’s reframing stories, too. I know I’ll have a plug at the end but I think there’s a lot there that, once we start to explore, how to shift that perspective, that folks find possible. So, please do get in touch, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a reframing story that came to my mind, it’s so funny, I remember back when I was dating and all the perils emotionally that come with that and being dumped and such, I remember my reframe was, like if I was blown off or whatever, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, she doesn’t like me. There’s something wrong with me.”

I would say, “Well, this candidate has been disqualified because she has not met the key criterion of crazy about Pete Mockaitis. So, it’s unfortunate we’re going to have to pass on her because she doesn’t check the boxes.” So, I don’t know, it helped me feel less but, again, that is me-focused, I guess. Maybe there’s an even better reframe, Lia.

Lia Garvin
I think if you took a similar parallel to not getting picked for a job, like maybe it’s something you’re really excited about, you feel like you did a great job in the interviews, and then in the last stage you didn’t get it, you didn’t get picked. Instead of believing, “Oh, God, I must’ve misread the interviews. I must not have been qualified. I’ll never find a job,” and going through these sort of doomsday scenarios, and saying, “I’m really proud that I got that far. Like, I got to practice. I got to really practice and see, ‘Hey, like I’m really good at these conversations. I can get to the final stage.’”

And I think, again, not thinking in terms of absolutes is just another way to reframe the situation. It’s like, “I had a fun experience on that date. This person is not going to be forever but I was still able to get out there and see what’s out there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lia Garvin
Yes. A favorite quote I’d say, in the spirit of reframing, is, “When you change the way you look at things, the things we look at change,” by Wayne Dyer. When I saw that, I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s the definition of reframing,” but that’s what this is all about, is seeing how much is possible when we look at something through a new lens. Because when we look at things the same way, we obviously keep…typically we get the same results. We’ve all heard that quote. And so, shifting the way we look at things, it starts to give us a completely new way of…everything around us starts to change, unfold, be different, be new.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Lia Garvin
My favorite is good old Amy Edmondson’s psychological safety. I do a ton of work inside companies around helping build effective teams, and psychological safety is at the base of that. And I think it’s so exciting to see that more and more understood and celebrated. I think it’s going to be the foundation to really getting people, potentially that have left the workforce as a part of the Great Resignation, to be back, to be reenergized.

And I think establishing psychological safety and really fostering that is going to help us move into whatever the next phases of work. Is it hybrid? Is it more distributed? Whatever it looks like. And so, that, I think, is some of the most important work around workplace dynamics that we can learn from.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Lia Garvin
Favorite book is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, or Dan Coyle. And this book dives into kind of in the spirit of psychological safety. It examines teams of all different disciplines from MBA to military, to restaurants, and what are the building blocks for why those teams were effective, and the kind of cultural pieces. And I think it has a ton of great strategies that any team can apply to helping create a greater sense of belonging. And it’s just super practical, has great stories, really inspiring, and also informed a lot of the work that I do with teams to be more effective and inclusive.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Lia Garvin
It’s got to be spreadsheets. And this is such a boring example, I know, but it can be Excel, it can be Google Sheets, it can be anything. If it has cells and I can type things in, I love it. I manage everything I do in spreadsheets. I find them very easy to use.

Actually, in one of my first jobs, I was working for an executive, someone like a chief of staff, and he said, and I was trying to get something done, I was sending an email out with, like, “Hey, here’s what’s outstanding.” And he said, “If you’re sending anything to a group of people, and something has to get done, put it in a table and it will get done instantly.”

And I took this paragraph and the request that I had, and I put all of it into a table using a spreadsheet, and we said, “Here’s the ask, here’s the owner, and status red…”

Pete Mockaitis
Here it is, yeah, nobody wants to be red.

Lia Garvin
Here it is. Nobody wants to be red. And automatically people were responding, “Oh, no, no, no, here it is. Here, I’m done.” And I just find spreadsheets just, yeah, great, simple, like evergreen tool for getting stuff done.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lia Garvin
Favorite habit is, call me boring again, waking up early. This is something, in order to do a lot of these things I got going on, and have a toddler and a day job, it involves making more time. And so, I get up early before my toddler wakes up. I have about hour, hour and a half to work on personal projects, be creative, exercise, before the day gets started. And I always, no matter what happens throughout the day, feel like I got that productive time for myself.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really resonates with folks; they quote it back to you, they re-tweet you, etc.?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. So, we talked about impact, and a quote that I like to share is, “Not all heroes wear capes. But when talking about your work, wear an F-ing cape.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lia Garvin
Wear the cape, let it shine, let it flow because we have to be our own advocates for our work. So, when talking about your work, wear the cape. That’s my quote.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, check out my website at LiaGarvin.com. Follow me on LinkedIn. On Instagram, I’m @lia.garvin. I have a YouTube channel called Reframe with Lia. All those places are places to learn more about my book Unstuck, to preorder, to get in touch with me, to learn more about the work I’m doing with coaching and workshops, everything like that. So, I would love to hear from folks.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. I would say, again, when you are feeling stuck, when you’re feeling the same sort of outcomes keep happening, pause, and ask yourselves, “How else can I look at the situation?” Reframe because it really is unlimited. There is infinite number of ways we can apply this. And it’s about getting more in tuned with finding that moment when we’re stuck, recognizing it sooner so that we’re not stuck for months or years, but maybe we’re stuck for a week or two, or a day. So, tuning in with yourself, becoming more self-aware so that you can recognize that you’re stuck and ask that reframing question.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lia, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and getting unstuck regularly.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much. It’s been awesome.

740: How to Reclaim Your Time and Calendar with Rick Pastoor

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Rick Pastoor shares his tried and tested strategies for beating the calendar overwhelm so you can get back to what matters.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why your calendar isn’t working–and how you can fix it 
  2. Powerful questions to keep you on track
  3. The simple trick to knocking out your biggest tasks 

About Rick

Rick Pastoor has always liked experimenting at work. He’ll try things out, then keep what works, ditch what doesn’t. Try. Rinse. Repeat. In his time at Blendle, the New York Times-backed journalism startup, Rick steadily refined his methods. That’s where GRIP was born, a flexible collection of tools and insights that helped the team do their best work.

Originally self-published in Dutch in 2019, GRIP became an overnight bestseller in Holland. Rick’s mission today is the same: helping people make smarter decisions about their time. He divides his own time between his young family in Amsterdam, giving talks on GRIP, his weekly newsletter “Work in Progress,” and a new startup, where he’s building a next-generation calendar called Rise. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Rick Pastoor Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Rick, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Rick Pastoor
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom and hear about the book Grip and your startup Rise but, first, I think we got to go back in time a little bit. I understand there was a moment in your life when you received a letter from your mayor as a youngster, it made quite an impact. What’s the story here?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah, okay, so this story is about when I was…I think I was around six. And on my birthday, on my sixth birthday, I received a letter from the municipality, like the local enforcement. It said, “Thank you, Rick, for cleaning up for us.” So, as I was young, and I still do but I cared about the environment in the city, in the local neighborhood actually. So, I started cleaning up stuff when I saw it and then I brought it home, and then my parents had to take care of it.

And for years, I thought that this letter was real, like it was signed from the mayor. And then at age, I think it was 12 or 13, I once brought up this letter, like, “Hey, it was actually weird. Did I get this letter from this…? How did they do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
How did they know?

Rick Pastoor
And then my parents said, “That was fake. That was something that we made up.” So, actually, I spent years thinking that the people in the city actually cared about this kind of stuff, that they noticed me. And I think the reason for sharing this is that, one, I always have cared about the idea that there are some rules that can be helpful, can be ideas that we should care about to keep things in order, and that brings you something, some idea of like you enjoy being in a space that’s nice and neat. So, that’s one idea.

And the second is that, while this was fake, this taught me that noticing these small things that people do that are working well can have a huge, like years’ long effect, of how they perceive the world, how they think about themselves, and stuff like that. So, since then I have made it a habit to try to notice this stuff and reach out to other people and share it with them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, like, “Hey, I noticed this and it’s really cool. Thank you.” Like that sort of thing?

Rick Pastoor
I think that kind of stuff, and I think that, I don’t know if you’ve ever…of course, you’re producing this podcast and you do other stuff, people think that you get bombarded with messages all of the time. And, of course, you probably get a lot of stuff but, still, I also found that, like the book sold over, whatever, 70,000 copies here in Netherlands, and people think that I have like hundreds of emails.

Of course, that is like the number of well-written and thoughtful emails that you get that someone had researched you or someone that really took the time, I can count on one hand every week. So, it’s really easy to stand out in that sense. And I found that to be true also for the biggest CEOs of the world. So, it has served to me as a trigger to don’t hold back in terms of the stuff that I share, also the questions that I ask to this kind of people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. And you haven’t held back when it comes to discovering and sharing advice for working smart, productivity stuff. Can you tell us, what’s perhaps one of the most surprising and fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about this game since you started looking into it?

Rick Pastoor
So, I think the biggest one for me is that the calendar is a really under-looked aspect for a lot of people, and that has a reason, I think. I’m a huge fan of what David Allen wrote in Getting Things Done, and that’s a big starting point for a lot of people when they think about how to structure their work. I found that in a time where we spend actually a lot of time in meetings still and we have a lot of things going on in the calendar, that sometimes there’s a disconnect.

And that’s where I struggled a lot a couple of years ago when implementing this, and I found a way of working around that but, actually, it starts with the calendar. For me, there was a big shift in terms of the level of sanity that I could achieve while doing something as simple as making sure that the calendar is an actual reflection of how I spend my time. Since then, that has been some kind of a message that I’m trying to preach to people around me and which ultimately led to writing the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, David Allen, for folks who are not familiar, he wrote Getting Things Done, which is fantastic, and we’ve interviewed him a couple of times, including toward the beginning – what a guy – before the show was big enough to be meaningful for his publicity. Episode 15-ish. Thanks, David.

And so, I recommend listeners check out his work. It’s so good and the general vibe being, “Hey, download all the stuff out of your brain. It’s for having ideas, not for holding them. Have them in organized lists. Know what your projects and next actions are associated with those projects and you’ll feel a sense of sort of freedom, and things will become unstuck in.” And it’s really true.

I think about it kind of like exercise. It really works and it’s also really easy to fall off the wagon and stop doing it because, hey, more stuff comes at us all the time, and so you got to be pretty vigilant and pick yourself up when you do fall.

So, when you talk about the calendar and the disconnect, was the disconnect you’re referring to is your calendar is not actually truthfully reflecting or displaying what you’re doing with the hours in your life? Is that the disconnect?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. So, there’s basically two things. One is that if you have a sense of the project and the tasks that you need to accomplish to get these projects done, there’s two big things that I found that I needed to add to make the system work. And one is to make the connection with when something is going to happen. Of course, what David was saying is that there are a certain set of contexts where a task can be executed well, and then you just start off with this list. But this list is endless, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
It really does get big. I’ve got 1800 items in my OmniFocus inbox.

Rick Pastoor
Exactly. And I have the same, and I feel that, when I was discussing this with people, it gets really overwhelming and it never gets done, and especially in a time where there’s no clear, like, I’m opening the door of my office. I walk in and then I walk out of there at 5:00 p.m. There’s no closure anymore. So, we need some boundaries. And if they are not there anymore in the physical world, we need to build them in our digital world and in our own management of how we manage time. So, the sense of, “When is it done?” It will never get done. Our work is never done.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Rick Pastoor
So, artificially, we need something, and I found that in the calendar. So, that’s one. And, two, I found that there’s a disconnect between where I am now and where I’m going with this. And, for me, that’s like David is describing this in “Getting Things Done” with the different levels of height that you’re looking at your life, like different thousand-foot levels, and I struggle with implementing this.

Like, “How does this link to my day-to-day stuff?” So, you have your weekly review, of course. But how does this map out over the bigger things? And that’s the second ingredient that I added in the second part of the book. It’s basically sharing how I do my quarterly goal-setting, annual review, and stuff like that, how do I keep all this stuff in place. And, again, that’s the link to, “Okay, I know where I want to go but when will this happen?” Well, I’m making the link to time again on this level.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s a great point in terms of “When does the work get done? Never because it’s endless.” And I find, maybe just to pause there for a moment, I find that to sort of emotionally that’s difficult because I really like to win and to feel like I’m winning, and I really don’t like to lose or feel like I’m losing. Not that I will bite your head off if you beat me in Monopoly or something but I would prefer to win.

And so, it is even more so with sort of my projects, my goals, the things that I’m trying to accomplish. And so then, I guess I’m curious, how do you know, whether it’s the course of a day or a week or an hour that, “Hey, even though the work is endless and always coming at me, I can declare victory. I have checked the box and kind of call this a successful day or week”? How do you get there?

Rick Pastoor
Well, if you zoom out, I think a big part of the way that we live, the stuff that we run into, is getting comfortable with the fact that the time on this planet is limited. And that means that we will find all kinds of ways to think that we have an endless opportunity to change stuff, to fix stuff, to start with things, to do stuff.

And I think, ultimately, being really aware that this day has so many hours, and, thus, forcing me to, upfront, decide how I’m spending it, and then making sure that that at least happens, will give me – and that’s what I found – this gives me fulfillment because this gives me a sense of, “Hey, I’ve mapped this out and this is what got done.” So, that’s one perspective of looking at it.

So, that’s like mapping it out again onto time, does not only force me to figure out when I’m starting, but also when I’m done. And that gives me this in-between, these small milestones, these small runs, like small days within the day where I can say, “Hey, I made this within the hour. I’m even faster, or I’m a bit slower, so I need to adapt.” So, it gives me these check-in points in the day, so that’s one.

And two is “What’s the alternative?” The alternative is that we assume that we’re not living with the fact that time is limited to us, and we never really get close with this. Well, that gives a false sense of opportunity. And, also, how do you prioritize if there’s no boundaries? So, in that sense, bringing that as close to the day as possible, so not thinking in a year but also in a day, really force me to make the tough decision, tougher decisions, on, “Okay, is this what I’m planning now, is it really worth my time if I look back on this?” Well, most of the time I need to swap things around a lot, actually.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing. So, that question, “Is this really worth my time looking back on it in the future?” So, in terms of like is there a specific articulation of that question or maybe that’s just it right there? like, I think, “A year from now, will I be pleased that I interviewed Rick in this moment?” So far, the answer seems to be, “Yes, Rick, nice work.” And so, that’s just all there is to it or are there some more nuances or layers?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah, I think this is also a part of a habit, and I think you and probably a lot of listeners might be familiar with the idea of doing a weekly check-in with yourself in the form of a review or, like in the book, I call this a Friday recap and expand on that a little bit. But, in a sense, I think it’s key to be aware that, without dedicated moments to sit down and reflect on certain time skills, these insights won’t really appear out of thin air. We need to work on that. We need to spend time on mulling this over and thinking about this stuff.

And, for me, the answer is also a structure where I no longer have to decide that I’m going to do it but it’s part of the structure so it happens. Like, it’s not something that you negotiate with, just like you’re not negotiating the fact that there will be a New Year’s Eve, like this is just what’s there. Like, in that sense, it should be something that’s just part of the deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, intriguing, so I like that. So, it’s just there, it’s just in the structure. And I guess maybe, from like a discipline motivation perspective, the first few times probably does require some will to do it, but then it’s just sort of like, “Well, Fridays at 11:00 a.m. is just when the recap happens. That’s just kind of what happens. That’s just it.” And so, is it just that simple after a few reps, then it’s there?

Rick Pastoor
I think, ultimately, there are two ways to look at it. One is there’s the really habit-forming approach where you’re looking at the technical parts of how will habits get formed. And Atomic Habits is, of course, a great book, if you want to dive into a lot of details around how you get to self-motivate instructions. There’s also the other angle of “What kind of value does this bring to my life?” And I think, again, for me, what I’m doing on a quarterly level where I’m taking this is one or two evenings, and on a yearly level, one or two full days to think about “What happened in the last year and how will this next year look?”

Those are the times where the value of this weekly sessions really sinks in but I also see this as if I skip it a week, and then the next week I feel I’m actually a worse person for it if I’m not doing it. And I think that’s where the rubber hits the road, and I experience that, that there’s something lost if I’m not doing it. And that’s where I feel this is not a trick. This is not something that I do because I feel like I really experience that stuff will fall apart if I’m not doing it.

But, of course, there’s also a connection between, “How do you make this super simple?” And we have the tendency to make things more complicated if things are not working, and I get that. Like, we bring in more complicated software if things are not but, actually, what really works is the other way around. If things are not working, take at least one piece of the puzzle out and then try it again. Like, make it simple instead of more complicated.

Pete Mockaitis
That reminds me of BJ Fogg’s work in Tiny Habits, like, “How can I make this easier?” is sort of like the master question. And I think that’s dead-on. Well, so I want to talk about the book “Grip” and some of the productivity experiments, but we’ve already sort of teased a little bit about sort of like the daily plan, the Friday recap, the quarterly, the yearly. Can you just give us a couple kinds of key guiding-light questions that you prompt yourself with at each of these intervals?

Rick Pastoor
Okay. So, on a weekly level, I’m thinking about, “Hey, what happened in the last week? What made me proud? What went well?” And then, “What are some of the things that did not go as well as I thought they went?” But, also, on a weekly level, it’s way more tactical, it’s way more like I’m tapping each item in my calendar to see if there’s any loose ends. Like, I follow the structure that also David Allen brought us, like, “Hey, go over each project and make sure that there’s a next action,” like there’s a basic checklist.

And then if I move to the quarterly level, I’m specific on using quarters because a month is way too short and a year is too long for setting any type of goals, so that’s why I’m using quarters. Also, it links really well with how a corporate structure works so you can also fold in your work plans a lot easier. And then I’m asking questions like, on the level of one goal, “So, how did my goals go? Did I manage them? And if not, why?”

On category level for each quarter, I have a couple of questions around, “Hey, like in my work, what kind of stuff do I actually want to spend my time on if I’m purely reasoning from my own perspective?” But, also, shifting towards more personal questions, like, “Hey, think about your friends, think about your family. How do you evolve in this, in this network of people? And what do you bring to each of these members of your family, friends, and group around you?”

So, going over these set of questions, zooming out on a quarter level and also on a yearly level, you see that gradually, like it moves from more technical to strategic “Where do I want to go as a person?” in a sort of sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so let’s hear, it sounds we’ve already hit a lot of it. But what’s sort of like the big idea or main thesis behind your book Grip, which will soon be released in English to us Yankees? And let’s hear about some of the intriguing productivity experiments that are inside of it.

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. So, basically, what I’ve done is I brought a guide that I would’ve found super useful if it was my first job, and it contains a structure for having a better week, and that starts with the three components: calendar, task manager, email/communication, and this Friday recap or weekly review. That’s the first part of it.

And based on what I found missing is that there’s a lot of books and ideas that zoom in on one of these specifics and give you a really helpful tool. But how does this fit into the life that I have to manage? There’s a lot of stuff going on. And how does this fit into the Slack channels that are also there and WhatsApp that’s also there? I need to deal with this. How do I make this happen? So, that’s the first part of the book.

And then, of course, the second part builds up on top of that with the goal-setting. Like, goal-setting, to me, is like a lot of people get mad if I start talking about setting goals.

Pete Mockaitis
“How dare you?”

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. They have this instant negative response because people are using goals in a wrong way. Like, they’re used on them, not with them. It’s like something that gets managed for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. “Here are your goals, Rick. For this quarter, you will be doing these goals.”

Rick Pastoor
Exactly. It’s more of a stick. And what I also hear is that it’s something that is spoken about a lot, like you discuss a lot at work, and then, ultimately, of course, a couple of weeks in, you get completely different directions. Like, we’re not able to stick to them as well. So, of course, it brings in a negative response. So, my goal was to give you something that you can actually play with that brings you something as a person.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. And so, you’ve done some experiments, huh? Let’s hear some of the results.

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. So, one of the things that I love, and this is not rocket science, but one of the things that I’m a huge fan of is “How can you break things down to the point that you do them today?” And this is something that I’ve seen work for a lot of people, but, of course, we have these big dreams and big ideas.

And, ultimately, what I found, one of the first things that I’ve done aside from the main job that I had as a startup back then, is that I found that it was hard to do a specific type of research in a team, and people were always saying, like, “Yeah, we need more time to do research,” and complaining, basically, about, well, the decisions that were made.

And then I thought, like, “So, okay, how can I break this down as much as possible?” We were building a new version of the onboarding of one of the apps that I was working on. And onboarding meaning, well, the pros of signing up and then getting a new account. So, then I thought, “Okay, what can I do every single day? Well, let me review one specific onboarding for another app, and then write a brief blogpost about it, and then post that.”

So, ultimately, after a month, I had quite a collection, actually, of work which were super simple to do. Like, it was precisely in my circles of stuff that I found interesting, that I’m good at, that give me a good feeling, and also had a good mix with, and add to stuff that we were doing at work. So, this is one example, which ultimately led to writing an article for A List Apart, which is one of the blogs that I still am a fan of for years, which I find super exciting.

So, then one thing leads to another. That also led, ultimately, to the second Fuller Project which was writing a newsletter for every single day of, that was, 2016. And that led to, ultimately, writing the book because I had this material. And then, of course, ultimately, people started asking me, like, “Hey, how do you manage this?” Well, then I point back to the starting point, which is just writing for 15 minutes a day. And that, we all have time for. So, I think that was one of the experiments that I started with super small, and then, well, kept on improving and kept on building upon, which is one of the core things that I still do every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so fun. And I’m just imagining in your workplace, like, “Oh, boy, Rick is the onboarding expert. Like, he’s the master of onboarding.” And it’s like, “Okay, so I signed up for an app a day and wrote about what happened when I got on board for 15 minutes, and I did that for 20 days, a total of five hours. And now I am like the all-mighty onboarding….” Well, I’m just sort of making assumptions that this…

Rick Pastoor
That is fair. No, that’s basically completely fair but, also, as soon as you start, as soon as you do this yourself, you start looking at the other stuff that gets published, gets written, and people get idolized for with different eyes because, sure, there are some things that are truly a ton of work, of course, but a lot of things are also a culmination of tiny bits and bytes every single day. And if you know that, then you also know that, like if you publish hundreds of podcast episodes, like you did, people start asking you, “How do you actually manage this?” “Of course, one episode at a time.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yup.

Rick Pastoor
One step at a time. And I think we underestimate what we can do if we do this for a longer period of time, which is super powerful, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Well, I would stop myself from ranting about how when you Google something, all 10 results look suspiciously similar often, not always, but often. It’s like, “I know what you’re doing, everybody. I know what you’re doing.” And it irritates me. Anyway.

Rick Pastoor
Are you saying with that that you feel that these types of habits are causing this?

Pete Mockaitis
No. I’m just saying when you look at a body of work with a different set of eyes after producing something, it’s true in that I know that there are SEO articles out there saying, “Google something, look at the top 10 results, and then repackage them. And, hopefully, your domain authority, or whatever, will push you to be on the top results. Now you get some traffic.” Well, thanks, you’ve made the world no better, and I find that annoying. That’s my hot take, anyway. Not super relevant.

Rick Pastoor
No, I get what you’re saying, and I think what is true in that is that if you use any type of these kind of hacks to make yourself do stuff, it also matters what you then do, of course, and the direction matters. And I think this is also why I love the saying of Stephen Covey, “You can run up a ladder as fast as possible, but if these ladders are set against the wrong wall, why are you doing it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Rick Pastoor
“What’s the ultimate perspective?” And I think this is what happens in a lot of stuff that you can just copy and paste tips and tricks. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, well, the combined effort of small steps every day can really surmount to a huge body of work that a lot of people will recognize, but that’s not the goal, that’s not really the goal. The goal is like, “How can you move this mountain for yourself?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I guess, fundamentally, it just feels more generous and loving in the world. Like, you’ve created something that is truly useful as opposed to something that’s just useful for your own sake, like, “Okay, hey, I managed to get some clicks but I’ve made the world know better,” is just kind of sticks me the wrong way.

But, anyway, bit by bit. Also, another thing I want to say about that, I remember back in my consulting days, when we were fresh recruits and we would look at people building these elaborate Excel models, and they showed us an example, like, “Oh, hey, yes, so here’s something I made,” and people are like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s insane. There’s like 50 different sheets and they all interrelate and you can automatically update one assumption and it flows into all these other places.”

And it was just like wildly intimidating but then they always said the same thing, it’s like, “Well, hey, this didn’t start out that way. One day we set out to figure out this one thing.” And they said, “Okay, so we had a very rough one-sheet thing.” And then we said, “Well, hey, actually there are some really dynamic assumptions working underneath it.” So they said, “Okay, so I made two other pages to reflect that, which then linked to the first one.”

And they said, “Well, there’s another section of things.” And so, again, it just sort of builds bit by bit. And then, when it’s unveiled in its entirety, whether it’s a whole book or a glorious Excel model or whatever, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s insane. I could never do that.” It’s like, “Well, no one can in one day. It grows up bit by bit, and then it becomes something awesome.”

Rick Pastoor
Yeah, I do want to add to one of the previous things that you mentioned on “Is it actually worthwhile what you’re doing?” That I do tend to believe that most of these does not happen out of malintent or out of purposefully making something that’s not useful, or just useful for yourself. I think, ultimately, we do want to build or make something, most people, that is, in some way, deeply useful for, one, ourselves, but also for others.

And I think if there’s, in your life, no structure around “How do you gather insights that help you course-correct? Who is your sounding board, in that sense? Who are the people around you that can speak to you about this? Who do you use as a sounding board to reflect on how kind of ethical and moral choices you’re making? I believe that this is also a hugely important part where you can, one, stand out from the pack, and, two, can have huge effects on the direction that you’re following.

Like, if you’re listening to this and you don’t have an answer to this, you don’t have a way to think about this to deconstruct these issues, you’re not course-correcting. And that’s when you’re missing out, I believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said in terms of if you don’t have something, some guideposts or values or people to bounce things off of, and you just go down an optimizing shortcut-y pathway to maximize something, you’re going to get into some gross results. I don’t know if this is true, but I heard a conversation with Bethany McLean and Seth Godin, and one of them said that, “If you continually split-test A-B, what gets better results and clicks, a website, it will always devolve into porn.”

And I don’t know if that’s true, but there is a kernel of truth, I think, to it in terms of like what’s more exciting, like, “Hmm,” in terms of capturing a click, if it’s more clickbait-y or provocative, it does tend to, in the short term, get more people curious enough to take a look. So, yeah, that’s a great point about zooming out and getting the broad perspective. But I want to zoom back in.

So, with calendars, you noted a disconnect and you’ve taken it to a whole another level here in terms of you’re not just using your calendar a little bit differently. You have raised $3 million, I see – congratulations – to build a full-blown new bit of calendar software. What’s the scoop here?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. So, if you think about when you do your best work, if you think about when you want to be focused, when you want to have your meetings, you will probably have some idea, and your listeners will probably have some idea, too, otherwise, you won’t be listening to this. But the question now is, “Okay, think about the rest of your team, think about your teammates, think about the people you possibly manage, the people that you interact with within the company, you probably have no idea or maybe you know, “Okay, this guy is working mostly late shifts. This is not a morning person.” Okay, but that’s as far as it goes.

With Rise, what we want to do is not just build the calendar as an Excel sheet that you fill in but, actually we want to fold these signals into a calendar as we’ve actually done in the last year. We built a scheduling engine that takes this stuff into account, so personal profile, but also the meetings and stuff that you’re attending already. And if you request a time, like, if you say, “Hey, I want to meet for one hour with colleague A, B, and C in the next week,” we will schedule that on a time that’s saving as many focused time minutes as possible for the whole team on average.

So, that’s the biggest thing. We don’t just want to build a pretty calendar, which is something that I think we do, but that’s not the décor because the gist of it is we want you to be in and out, but actually want to help you preserve as much time to focus on what actually matters but also actually have better meetings because they are scheduled at times where you can perform at your best.

And that’s something that’s also linking back to the book but also in how you structure your week, is that we arrived at this, in a time where we just assume that we perform on this very same level on Monday mornings as Thursday afternoons, or at least we expect that of ourselves. Well, of course, that’s not true. And the same is what we’re doing in a year, like on a scale of a year. We just assume and expect from ourselves, from our team, that we perform at our best at all times. Well, that’s not how nature works.

So, there are times where we are just not so focused as we could possibly be, there are times in a year where we need to re-energize. And I think those are things that we actually know that are proven by science, that are backed by research, and stuff that we want to fold into this engine to make sure that you no longer have to think about this stuff, but actually have a calendar guide you to having better days and better weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s certainly intriguing. I guess I’m wondering if there are low-importance meetings that you can schedule for people’s least juicy times. Although, I know if anyone hosting meetings likes to think of it as low importance, but sometimes they might. It’s like, “Hey, these are just the updates that we’re obliged to do by law or something.”

Rick Pastoor
There’s one way to think about that, and that is there is no way for a team to set any type of guardrails about how much time you spend in meetings. So, there is basically just saying, “Hey, can we put it in this week or not?” Like, that’s what we are thinking about. So, that’s also hard to think about more weeks because there is just so much data to consider if you think about just scheduling in a meeting.

And you say low-priority meetings, well, like we know this but it’s just too big of a mental hurdle to think about the other possibilities, but that we can do. So, what happens in Rise is if you schedule a meeting, and the meeting loads for a team, it crosses the boundary that you set as a team, it will suggest, “Hey, possibly move this to next week.” And in a lot of situations, that’s fine. Like, there’s a lot of stuff that can wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m curious then, in terms of for our own selves, and maybe Rise does some of this, what are the best times to work? And to what extent are there universals versus individual personal preferences? And how do we masterfully deduce those and work with them?

Rick Pastoor
I think, roughly, there are – and this is not rocket science – roughly, there’s two types. There are the morning owls and there’s late nights, the people that perform better later in the day. And I think if you take those as archetypes, you can split those, again, into two groups but, roughly speaking, there is half of the population that really wants to have their focused time early in the day, and have their meetings maybe a little bit to start around 11:00 in the morning or just after lunch, and then continue into the afternoon.

And there’s another group that prefers to have their meetings in the morning, so to get them done, and have their peak time around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., and then continues later in the day. And, additionally to this, there’s also a group that is really productive in the evenings, while there’s no distractions, there’s no things going on. What you do see is that you can ask yourself if that happens because of the distractions, or because they are truly more productive at that time.

So, I think that’s an interesting thing that program to impact especially in the next couple of years when people are and will be way more experimenting with disconnecting the work, the usual work times, and figuring out more. But if there’s no construct of an office anymore, and if you can let go of the times more, like you need to appear at 9:00 in Slack and then disappear from Slack at 6:00, what will happen to our productivity if that’s truly possible? But, in a sense, I see two big groups. So, either one in the morning or in the afternoon to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, before we hear about some of your favorite things, can you give us maybe a top do and a top don’t in the realm of calendar, task manager, and communications?

Rick Pastoor
Okay. So, a top do would be, one, make sure that what you do is reflected in this calendar. So, one, that’s meetings, but, two, after that, preparation time, processing time, travel time. Those are three that are very often overlooked. And, of course, you are not the person that is not preparing their meetings, but all the other people are. But we can actually set a good example and make sure that we have the preparation time booked in, otherwise it won’t happen.

And then, connects to that, make sure that what you’re actually working on, so all your tasks, two biggest tasks that need to happen should be in the calendar, that’s what I absolutely believe. That gives a signal to the team, that gives a signal to the people that try to book something in, but also it’s a huge thing for yourself to see a notification pop up and say, “You need to work on this right now because now there’s no excuse anymore.”

So, I’m really saying, make sure that what’s in there, that’s also something that you’re not negotiating with anymore. So, it’s really something that you should actually do. So, that’s really the do part. And the other two parts is what you already mentioned. Like, you should not use your brain for storage. Of course, that’s a mantra that people hear on this channel a lot, but that’s really something that you should not do because you should use your brain as a working memory to focus on what’s at hand.

And then the final one from me would be schedule time for communication, and let that happen at a set time because, one, that’s a skill. Communication is something that we value, like we’re not cutting it out, but very often, what happens, of course, we do our chats and our email while on the go, while we’re, I don’t know, in line in the grocery store, and, of course, we’re not reading things well, we’re not having our full attention. And, of course, stuff runs off the rail with that because we’re not reading. So, I would suggest book off time, like block off time in your calendar to do this communication. If we really value it as part of our work, it should be there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Rick, now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Rick Pastoor
My key quote that I return to is the one, of course, from old president Eisenhower, there’s stuff that’s urgent but not important. Most of the things that are urgent are not important, and most of the things that are important are not urgent. And I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but that’s something that, like every day, is challenging me so much to really think about. If someone puts something on my plate, is that truly because it’s…like should I accept this because it really fits where I’m going? Or, do I do this because, well, really someone else requests this of me?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Rick Pastoor
Okay, so the one that I find really intriguing is still this study that’s about how much time do we need to return to our tasks when we are disrupted by something, or when we’re disturbed by something. And there’s a study that’s often quoted, which is that we need – what is it now? 24 minutes? 23 minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking the Microsoft study, 24 minutes. You got something fresh for me, Rick?

Rick Pastoor
No, no. We all talk about this study. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that I need this amount of time to return to the task, but, still, we talk and think about it, and we use this to, I don’t know, take certain directions in how we shape our day. So, I feel this is something that I hope, in the brief, like short time, near time, we will discover that there’s actually something else happening.

And how can we, in a world where so much is happening around us, and we’re disrupted a lot, can we find a way where we’re not dependent on our own discipline so much to get done what needs to get done? So, there’s these paradigms where, of course, if you look at deep work, for example, where…and actually part of Rise is built on top of that, you need as many undisturbed blocks of time to really do work that’s important.

And that’s the idea that most of us start from. But the question is, “Is that something that…can we invent something that really breaks with this pattern that allows us to combine both the fact that we are available instantly, with the fact that we can produce meaningful work if we are still, like in a way, connected and sometimes interrupted by something?” That’s something that I’m fascinated about.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Rick Pastoor
One that I re-read a lot is one of the earliest productivity books, and that’s How To Live On 24 Hours A Day. I don’t know if you know it. It’s a really thin one and I think it’s 1907, something like that, that it was written. And I love it because he’s basically describing that we tend to focus our work in like eight hours a day, and we have like around eight hours of rest, and then, still, there’s quite a lot of time left.

And he’s basically saying, “Okay, if we can, instead of focusing on how can we make these eight hours at work more productive, if we think how can we meaningfully spend those other eight hours, that’s, of course, a 2X improvement,” which is really hard to do with incremental, really small changes in, I don’t know, our day-to-day software and our to-do list and our hacking our kind of stuff. And I think this is, to me, a really useful reminder that I need to be conscious about, or can be conscious about, this other segment of my day as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah, well, the calendar is an easy one for me. Like, for me, that’s something that I begin the day with and end the day with. I’m actually on the first version of Rise now, which is really nice, and I’m connected to that. I’m also a huge OmniFocus fan, so that’s my go-to task manager.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Rick Pastoor
Favorite habits will be, for me, we have been doing a smoothie every single day for, I don’t know, 10 years. Every morning, I make this.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s in the smoothie, Rick? We have to know.

Rick Pastoor
It’s all veggies. And we started off, and I think this is, again, is something that like you have to ease in a little bit because, like I have some friends that drink this stuff that we make, and they’re like, “What are you drinking because this is disgusting?” But I do feel that, while I cannot prove this, that this has a lot of long-term healthy effects on my energy during the day, but also long-term what kind of stuff do I consume and do I get the proper amount of nutritional value in my body.

So, we started off with a lot of fruits, and then, over time, gradually replaced fruits by more vegetables. And that has been something that, I would say, something that the longest running habit that I’ve been doing.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s see, like this morning, what was the recipe in terms of the vegetables?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. Okay, so there is the fruit that is in this is unpeeled bananas, because in the peel of a banana, there is most of the fiber, actually. So, I wash the banana, and then I put it in. There’s – what is it? – linseed, I guess – how do you call it? – in there. There is carrots, there’s spinach, there is kale, there is…let me check. I have to also translate the words in my head so I’m looking. Avocado?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rick Pastoor
Yeah, it’s the same, huh? Avocado, yeah. So, avocado is in there. And for flavor, I use cacao, is it in Dutch?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cacao? Chocolate?

Rick Pastoor
Chocolate, but, of course, the pure biological version, which is in powder. And spirulina.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s something.

Rick Pastoor
And that’s it. And then water, and that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Cool. All right. And tell us, is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote back to you often?

Rick Pastoor
Yeah. So, what they’re saying is the first thing that they discover when they start to put in the work in the calendar, saying, “I have way too much on my plate. So, how do I…like, give me a tip to compress it all in.” And, of course, the answer is there is no way. Like, there is no way that’s happening, and that’s actually the exercises you should go through because now you start to see that it will never all fit, and you need to make the decisions that matter.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Rick Pastoor
I’m quite active in Twitter so that’s where I’m sharing the stuff. So, that’s @rickpastoor on Twitter, and that’s also where I refer to my newsletter and the other stuff that I’m working on, and that’s the place to find me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Rick Pastoor
I would say that being diligent about how you spend your time, not only on a weekly basis, but I would challenge the people, especially from this podcast, to also spend time on the longer horizon, and not just following what’s offered in the workplace, but consciously thinking about what your system, your structure there, because that’s where you find the real impact.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Rick, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun with the book and with Rise and all your adventures.

Rick Pastoor
Thank you so much for having me.

738: How to Get Inspired and Be Inspiring with Alise Cortez

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Alise Cortez reveals what sets apart inspirational leaders, and how you can become one yourself.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three principle sources of meaning
  2. How to get yourself out of a job rut
  3. What people look for in an inspirational leader 

About Alise

Dr. Alise Cortez is the chief purpose officer at Alise Cortez and Associates, a management consulting firm. She is also an inspirational speaker, social scientist, author, and host of the Working on Purpose radio show. Having developed her expertise within the human capital / organizational excellence industry over the last 20 years, she is focused on helping companies, leaders, and individuals across the globe to live with “gusto,” meaning, and purpose. She is the author of Purpose Ignited: How Inspiring Leaders Unleash Passion and Elevate Cause, and the Curator of Passionately Striving in “Why”: An Anthology of Women Who Persevere Mightily to Live Their Purpose. 

Resources Mentioned

Alise Cortez Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alise, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Alise Cortez
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be on the other end of the mic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting with you and to hear about your wisdom when it comes to purpose and inspiration and fighting burnout. But, first, I want to hear, you had an aspiration as a youth, tell us about this.

Alise Cortez
Yeah, let’s just be thankful that things change and evolve over time and, hopefully, very quickly. So, Pete, when I was in my elementary school years, and I asked a lot of people this when I’m doing my interviews with them, what do they want to be when they were young, like in elementary school, and I had a very, very strong singular aspiration in the second grade to become a horse.

And that was because my mother was married five times by the time she was 28. She finally found Mr. Right with her fifth marriage when I was in the second grade, and he moved us to this farm and I had my own horse, he was my best friend, and I thought, “Wow, if a being can be that magnificent, I want to be one of those.”

So, I, literally, Pete, would go around, I had two young siblings at the time, I would literally go around practicing being a horse. And so, I’d get on all fours and I’d give them rides on my back, and I practiced my whinny, and I was ready to be a horse. And my parents were, of course, horrified. I don’t know how long it took me to outgrow that, but that was my first aspiration.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s interesting, they say, which is that’s a great question, “What do you want to do?” when you were little in terms of upon growing up, and there are often clues in that about your interests and passions and things. Tell me, were there some things about horses that connected to what you’re doing now?

Alise Cortez
What a thoughtful, beautiful question. As you ask me the question, I can connect the dots. No one has ever asked me that before, but, yeah, there’s something about, for me, horses are magnificent. They are elegant. They are elevated. They are graceful. And so, the work that I do today is so much is about stewarding consciousness. That’s so much of the work that I do.

And, yeah, so we’re on stewarding individual lives, organizations upward and toward magnificence, toward elegance, towards something bigger and beautiful, more beautiful. So, yeah, I think I can connect it, my fascination with horses to what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so now let’s chat a little bit about some purpose. You’ve got a new book, Purpose Ignited. What’s the big idea here?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, the big idea here is that each and every single one of us have the capacity and, frankly, the responsibility to be able to ignite that which is already within us in terms of our energy, our passion, our vitality. It’s always there and available to us but we lose it along the way in life as we go out and get burnt out and we get overwhelmed, etc. but it’s always there. And so, the book really teaches us how to remain vigilant and develop it and exercise it on a daily basis, first, as individuals and then as inspirational leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell us, when it comes to, I’m thinking a little bit about if someone is listening and you’re an individual and you are not yet having direct reports but you are feeling your inspiration, motivation sagging and maybe burnout on the rise, what would you recommend are some of the top things they should do?

Alise Cortez
Oh, yeah, I got this, Pete. I got this. Okay. So, I haven’t introduced myself as a management consultant specializing in meaning and purpose and an organizational logotherapist but now is the time to do so. So, when it comes to logotherapy, what that really speaks to is healing and vitality through meaning. And I don’t think you can go a day without hearing about purpose and meaning, but what the heck are they, right? And how do we actually get to them?

So, as a logotherapist, a lot of the work that I’m doing is about helping people to access meaning in their lives and their work because when they do so, that is their ultimate turn-on mechanism, their ultimate energy source, essentially. That’s what logotherapy teaches and that’s what I embrace.

So, what I would say is I’ll share with you there are three principal sources of meaning according to logotherapy and when we can each access those and learn to presence them in the moment to moments of our lives, the more energy that we have and the more irresistible we’d become to other people. So, I’ll share those really quick, but before I do, do you want me to speak just to the individual piece or do you want me to speak to this model first?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s hear about the individual and then the model.

Alise Cortez
Okay. So, let’s go back to from an individualistic vantage point. We each and every one of us have access to this notion of meaning in the everyday moments of our life and across our lives, and yet it’s up to us to be able to find that. And the more meaning we can find in our lives, the more lifted we are, the more energetic we are, and, frankly, the more irresistible we are to other people.

So, what does that speak to? How do we translate that to the world of work? As individuals, one, when we really understand what it is that lights us up, what do we love, we can opt-in to those opportunities and let anything else go that doesn’t actually fit that path or that pattern, if you will. And then, two, when are leading other people, or we want to lead other people, even if we’ve never done that before, when we’re so up to something that turns us on and lights us up and we’re passionate about, that is what is irresistible to others.

In fact, what we’ve learned in the leadership space, Pete, is that there’s all different kinds of ways that leadership has been taught about, categorized, and tried to develop over the years, but where we have come to with a lot of common ground with thought leaders in the same space is the one thing that we really need is inspiration.

We need inspirational leaders who actually show us the possibilities, something much bigger than ourselves, that makes us feel like we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves and that we belong to that, and helps us grow into the best version of ourselves. So, individually, what we really need is that path to meaning to steward us toward that higher being in ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so then, I’m curious, if we’re doing our own introspection and we want to tap into that ultimate energy source and get some more of that, how do we come to get a great understanding of what really lights us up?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, okay. So, then I want to get into the model then. So, according to logotherapy, there’s three principal sources of meaning. And so, the first one is creative, and that is what we give of ourselves to the world, that we can uniquely give of ourselves to the world. And I translate that word to passion. So, what is it that you can’t not do in the world? If nobody was looking and nobody paid you, what would you do? That’s the stuff and it’s always the thing that you put yourself into.

So, for me, as an example, one of the things for me is I have to go find someone on a daily basis that I can uplift. So, even if it’s in the grocery store, even if it’s walking down the sidewalk, I look for someone that I can say something kind about, not because I want something, Pete, but because when I do that, the act of giving that unique message from me to them lifts me, and that’s the energy source back that I’m talking about.

So, the more that we, one, know what our passions are and, two, exercise them, the more energy we get. So, when I’m out speaking with audiences, Pete, and I ask people that question, I ask an audience of a hundred people, five hundred people, a thousand people, “What are you passionate about?” Guess, Pete, what the number one response is?

Pete Mockaitis
Helping people?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, I’ll get that as a little response here and there. Some people will say families, some will say travel, but the universal response more in common is, “I don’t know.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That was so funny. I was about to say I don’t know because I didn’t know. But I thought, “I want to give her a good guess. Let’s see.” I was like, “Wine, coffee, travel. Let’s go with helping people.”

Alise Cortez
Right. But those, again, are not really passion because those are just things you enjoy. You’re not putting yourself into them unless you’re like savoring the moment and letting the juices run down your chin as you drink that coffee or drink that wine or whatever. So, passion is your first source of meaning. The second source is experiential, and this is what the world gives you in the way of encounters and experiences, and I translate that to inspiration.

So, those are the moments that literally breathe life into yourself as you experience them, and so they are interactions, encounters. People might then say things like, “Travel is an inspiration,” or, “Watching somebody do something really amazing or great.” So, for me, there’s lots of sources of inspiration, and hosting my radio show is one of them. Each week, I’m having an amazing conversation with somebody who teaches me something, so that breathes something into me.

And then the third source of meaning is attitudinal. So, one important thing to understand is all of these sources have to surround themselves around a value that you hold. So, whatever it is, I value empowerment so, therefore, lifting others is part of the reason that giving of those experiences to others is meaningful to me. I value learning and growth, so hosting a radio show is why that works for me as an inspiration.

So, the attitudinal is that becomes a source of meaning when, especially when you face an encounter or faith in life that you cannot control but you turn that into the ability to recognize it as an achievement, but for the way that you allow yourself to put an attitude toward it, or your mindset. So, the one thing that we always have control over, Pete, no matter what, is the attitude that we take against whatever circumstances life puts forth through us. And it is that which we have control, and that is our brand.

So, whether you’re an optimist, or whether you’re somebody that say, “Oh, woe is me. I’m a victim,” all that is true because your mind told you that. So, you have an opportunity to be able to architect that mindset. And, for me, it’s all about, “What will you do with your one precious life? You have just one of them, what are you going to do?”

I just watched, by the way, last night, “14 Peaks.” If that is not inspirational and doesn’t teach you the sheer power of mindset, I do not know what does. Have you seen it?

Pete Mockaitis
I have not.

Alise Cortez
Oh, it’s incredible. It’s about a Nepalese man who finds a team against all odds. He summits the 14 tallest mountains over 8,000 meters – is it meters? – in less than seven weeks. Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s truly amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Less than a week’s rest between each.

Alise Cortez
It’s like phenomenal. But that, Pete, is the power of the human spirit. And when you convince yourself, and you have that kind of a mindset powering your sails, there’s nothing you really can’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. So, okay, we got the three categories – the creative, the experiential, and the attitudinal. What discovery process or key introspection questions might you recommend we engage in to really zero in on a clear bullseye for these pieces for us individually?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, great question. And, by the way, you have a great voice, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Alise Cortez
You’re welcome. So, first, the creative, right? I can tell you that so many people have left their passions go over the years as they became “an adult.” So, there were things that you loved when you were a kid, in your earlier years, and you let them go because, oh, you didn’t have time anymore, you’re working, whatever, or there’s additional nuance that have come along that you just haven’t given time over to because you’re busy with other adult matters.

And so, really finding those things that literally light you up when you do them, and pay attention. Ask your friends, ask your family, “What do you think that I love?” They’ll tell you. They’ll know. You’re just the only one that forgot. So, first, giving space in your life for those things even if it’s only 15 minutes a day or some time per week because it’s the act of giving yourself over to those passions that gives you that vital energy back.

On the experiential front, I actually had somebody at my workshop last week asked me this very same question. She knew what her passion was, it was totally giving herself over into her children, but she didn’t know how to identify an inspiration. And I said, “Well, I think that’s a matter of paying attention to look around you.” For a lot of people, it’s nature, it’s beautiful music, it’s art, it’s being or hearing about phenomenal stories.

Like, for me, I think Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspirational human beings I’ve ever known about. That he can devote his whole life to this idea of exercising apartheid. It’s just amazing to me. So, if you look around, there’s so much to be inspired by. It’s just what do you value? Do you value eradicating world hunger? Do you care about climate change? Do you care about economic improvement in your backyard? When you go looking for the things that you value, and then you go see, “Who’s doing something about those things? Or, what’s doing something about those things?” I can guarantee you, you will find some kind of inspiration in that front.

On the attitudinal space, first and most importantly, examine what is governing you today. When you think about how you make decisions and what goes through your mind throughout the day, one thing that people do, Pete, is they’ll set like a timer every hour or every two hours, and in that moment just quickly record what was on their mind. And then you can start to see the pattern of what actually shows up in your mind throughout the day, “Oh, man, I’m constantly thinking about how bad my life is,” or, “I’m doing this wrong,” or whatever it is.

So, when you get a handle on what is that governing pattern of what guides your life and your thoughts, because most of the time we’re on autopilot for that. We don’t even know what is our mindset. You have to bring it to your awareness. And one way to do that is to record your thoughts for some period of time – every hour, a couple of hours – to bring that to light. And then just see how is that serving you, how is that working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, could you maybe tie this together with a story of someone who was feeling low on the inspiration, and then they did some discovery around these points and had a transformation?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, I was thinking about that. I didn’t know if you were going to ask me about a story, but I thought, “Gosh, I want to bring this home.” So, my PhD is in human development, and I started meaning in work and identity when I was doing my research. And then, several years later, I decided to expand that postdoc research into something much bigger, and I interviewed 150 men and women across 20 different professions about their experience of work and how their person was related to it, and I found these 15 modes of engagement.

I was getting towards the end of the data collection, Pete. I might get 110 people, I want 115, and I needed another chef as one of my categories. And I found somebody who had been referred to me, I called him up, I say, “Hey, I’m doing this research. It’s about meaning in work,” and he goes, “Oh, Alise, you don’t want to interview me. I hate my job.” And I’m like, “I definitely want to talk to you because I’m trying to understand the full spectrum of experience. Please, can we talk?”

So, we scheduled the in-person 90-minute interview at his restaurant, and I came one evening at like 6:00 o’clock and we had dinner together at his restaurant, and I interviewed him. And during the course of that 90-minute conversation, Pete, he fell into a pile of tears no less than five times. He was so miserable. He hated the fact that his family was at home while he was a chef working Friday, Saturday nights, all the weekends, and they were living while he was working.

He felt like he was trapped in his job. He made a lot of money, and he said, “I’m beholden to this because I have to pay my ex-wife all this alimony. My boss is a jerk. He yells at me every day. I walk on egg shells. I don’t get to serve the menu I want. I got to do what they do.” He just was so miserable. So, I finished collecting all this data, it was 2800 pages. I go and analyze all this data, and I come up with these 15 modes of engagement, all the way from transcendental connection, which is the highest, most fulfilled, to living your purpose, and all the way down to number 15, which is existential crisis, which is where I found him to be.

So, part of my research design involved sharing with each of my participants, “Here’s what I came up with. Here’s what I came up with the results. Here are the 15 modes of engagement. Here’s the one that I think you were exhibiting when we interviewed you. Do you agree? And since I’ve interviewed you, do you think you’ve changed modes, and to which one?” So, Pete, the day I go to, I scheduled the conversation with this guy, his pseudonym is McKinney, I am not looking forward to this conversation. Who wants to tell somebody they’re in existential crisis?

Pete Mockaitis
“It looks like you’re the worst. You’re in a weird tight spot.”

Alise Cortez
Who wants to give that message? So, the phone rings and I’m hoping he doesn’t pick up. So, he picks up, and he goes, “Alise, guess what? I’m all the way up to conflicted fit,” which is like six modes up from existential crisis, and I let a deep breath go. And I’m like, “Well, what happened? What’s going on?” He goes, “Well, Alise, after you interviewed me, remember when you sent me the transcript about our interview,” which is part of my design, “I shared that with my wife and my mother-in law, and when they read it, they wept. They had no idea I was so miserable.”

“And so, immediately, what that did was it opened them, and they just began to support me in a whole different way that I’ve just never had with them before. And so, suddenly, I just felt understood and appreciated in a way that I just never had.” And he said, “Today, I have the same boss. I still work, he still screams, I still walk on eggshells, I have the same crappy hours.” But he said, “You know what I’ve come to understand is I make good money. I can send both my kids to college. My kids are proud of where I work.”

And so, the only thing that has changed, Pete, is his attitude, about how he’s come to understand his work. So, conflicted fit, that particular mode, what that speaks to is you’re in the right kind of work but you’re in the wrong place or the wrong environment. That’s what that particular mode describes. Existential crisis speaks to having a negative view of yourself because of the work that you’re doing, and you’re literally on such an existential level that it’s literally chopping away your soul. So, it was quite a change for him.

But, again, all that speaks to is getting conscious, getting aware of, “Where are you today? What can you do to start to turn and other people and where you want to be in life? And how can you change, literally, what happens and how you decide what that means?” and that’s your attitudinal change. So, he’s a great example of, literally, in a matter of some weeks, he could change his whole life and his health and his relationships, but for the way that he was relating to his work.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s cool. Six rungs without actually changing the work itself. That’s pretty potent. Now, I want to hear a little bit about, when it comes to if we are trying to inspire others, what should we think about?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, I love that question. That’s a killer question. Well, if we want to inspire others, first we need to get turned on ourselves. That is job number one. You got to be turned on in your own life. People do not want to follow somebody who is a dill pickle, who wants to hear about all the negative stuff that’s going on in the world. That’s not who they want to follow.

They want to follow somebody who’s excited about their own lives and feels great about where they’re going and what’s happening around them, and in the process, they’re looking to see what’s amazing and great about you, “Wow, I’ve never seen anybody problem-solve like you do in such a creative way.” And, usually, people are like, “What? Really?”

And so, when you, as a leader, can see what’s amazing and great about your people, and you help them then lift to a higher version of that by giving them opportunities, and challenging them in a loving way to get them to be able to become higher versions of themselves, to realize more of their potential, that is an inspirational leader that people want to follow. People want to be able to realize their best, and they can’t do it alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the starting point. And then what?

Alise Cortez
And then from there, you got to hold them to that. So, if you do it right, you’re going to bring them to places where they’re scared to death, “What do you mean, Pete, you want me to go and do that project? I can’t do that project. I’ve never done that before.” “Mm-hmm, I know. So, here’s how we’re going to help you get through that.” And if they aren’t literally, if their knees aren’t knocking on occasion, you’re not doing enough.

Now, some people don’t want to be challenged to that quite so you got to understand a little bit of their appetite before you go pushing them over the edge. So, that means you got to really become a fantastic listener. And so, the best leaders, literally, do transform lives, and you know you’ve done this well when you give them appreciation and feedback, and the appreciation that you give them, literally, can move them to tears and when they want to stay in touch with you for years over time. They don’t want to let you go, then you know you’ve done this well.

But it’s really about transforming their lives, helping them to be able to see a greater possibility given the resources, to be able to create that within and for themselves, and introduce them to possibilities and opportunities that they couldn’t have by themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
And, likewise, could you share a story of this coming to life?

Alise Cortez
I’m going to share my own. And this is a great example of an inspirational leader. I grew up in a small town north east of Oregon, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. My ticket out was Roland Harvel, who owned a small pumping company that I got to do a co-op job for, and he said the magic words, “If you ever find yourself in Portland, you’ve got a job with me.” I’m like, “I got to go. I’ll see you later.” I graduate high school, get to Portland, do a little bit of business college, go to work for him for 18 months in his commercial real estate development company as his administrative assistant.

Pete, great job, time of my life. I’m in downtown Portland, I’m working for a commercial real estate developer, and just thinking, “He teaches me so much. He’s funny. He’s bigger than life. He pulls me forward. He believes in me,” all this sort of things. Eighteen months on the job, one day out to lunch, he passes by my front desk, opens the door, walks out, over his shoulder he says, “You got to get out here. You got to go see the world. Get an education. Do something with yourself. But before you go, hire your replacement,” and the door shuts.

So, I’m wondering the whole time he’s gone, just the singular question, “Did he just fire me?” So, he comes through that same door a little over an hour, just merrily walks through and goes back to his desk, and I stopped him, I’m like, “Hold on just a second, Roland. Did you just fire me?” And he said, “Absolutely. It’ll be a crime to keep you here.”

So, here’s the magical thing about this, Pete. Before he said what he said to me, I did not know I could go to college. My parents were farmers and restaurateurs. They were very successful entrepreneurs. We didn’t talk about college. So, a bachelor’s, three masters, and a PhD later, I think I can check the education box. He told me to go see the world.

I lived in Spain and Brazil. I learned those languages. I speak five different languages. I’ve done work in many parts of the world and travel all the time. Still working on that “What do you do with your life?” That will be a forever thing. But this guy, we’re still involved. He’s 84 years old now, and he came to my wedding. He called me every weekend when I got my divorce in 2016. Today, my job is to cheer for him as he brings together his new invention – the interlude chair. So, we’re still connected after all this time, so a really great leader.

He totally saved my life, Pete. God, I don’t know how long, I’d probably still be there if he hadn’t…he saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. He showed me that vision and he led me to it, and it required, in his case, to kick me out of the nest. But what a saving grace and what a gift, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, when you say he saw something in you, you did not see in yourself, I mean that sounds…in some ways, it just sounds like, “Oh, he has a gift. How lovely.” Can we learn to do that? And how?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, I love that question, Pete. You’re so good at this. Yeah, we sure can. And I use this phrase “Go looking for your people. Go looking for them.” Pete, he saw things my parents couldn’t see in me. They couldn’t see with their eyes. I do think he’s unique because he’s a Czechoslovakian-American, he survived getting out of the war, he was headed toward the camps, so I do think there was something special about him, and we can all learn from him.

So, if we will literally stop looking at “What’s wrong with people? What are they not doing right?” which usually translates to “What aren’t they doing like I do because my way is right?” and we start looking for, “What’s right about these people? What’s different? What’s unique? Why is it that Sally always asks these razor-sharp questions in meetings that some people find to be kind of put-off but they’re so incisive? What can we do with that?”

Like, go looking for the gem in every one that we have in our group, in our team, and talk with them about, “Where is your life going? What do you want to do? Do you know that you have this amazing gift to be able to really understand and make explicit that which others can’t see? Do you know that? Most of the type of people don’t know that.”

So, when leaders can go looking for what’s really right and different and special about their people, and help them, one, become aware of that, and then, two, if they’re interested, steward that, develop that, learn to apply it, that’s an amazing gift. That’s an amazing gift to people.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, tell me, Alise, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alise Cortez
I guess I will always emphasize the point of we really do just have one precious life as far as we know. And, really, it’s an opportunity, it’s your responsibility to do what you want in that, and it takes energy to do that, and it’s right there. Logotherapy teaches us that being able to find the meaning in the moments is the easiest cheapest thing that you can do to be able to steward that journey in an energizing, invigorating, vitalizing way. And it’s right there for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share with us a favorite

Pete Mockaitis
book?

Alise Cortez
It’s not a book but it’s a story. It’s called The Beast in the Jungle. Do you know it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Alise Cortez
I forget who the author is. I’m sure one of our listeners will remind us. I read it when I was in my late teens, and it was so powerful for me. This is the power of writing and the power of stories. But the essence of it, Pete, is that the author, the narrator is talking about this awful thing that’s going to happen to him in his life, and it he knows it and so he avoids all these relationships. And, also, that there’s something really, really special that’s waiting for him, too. There’s something awful and something special, and he spends his whole life protecting himself.

But he makes this friendship with this woman, and she totally buys into his vision of himself, and they become lifelong friends. At the end of this thing, we discover that their relationship was really, it’s hinted anyway, that their relationship is really was the beast in the jungle the whole time. It was the thing that he was afraid of and it was also his best gift. It just reminded me so much of how much we can lose in life when we’re not open to the experience of life unfolding, and that we don’t trust the magic of the moments that are right here in front of us all the time. So, it was such a profound book for me and it’s something I’ve never been able to forget.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Alise Cortez
What people generally say about me is I’m energy and I’m inspiring. People remember the “What will you do with your one precious life?” People remember that “You have it within you to do what you want.” Those are some of the major takeaways that people get from what I speak.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Alise Cortez
My principal website is the easiest – AliseCortez.com. That’s the easiest.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alise Cortez
Yeah, get really flipping clear about what you’re passionate about, and do that. Do that like to the hilt. That is your one opportunity to distinguish yourself, and, in so doing, you will totally energize and light yourself up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alise, this has been a treat. I wish you much purpose and inspiration.

Alise Cortez
Thanks, Pete. I got more books to write, so thanks for the opportunity to be on the show with you. I appreciate getting to share my message.

737: How to Make Decisions Smarter and Faster with Ralph Keeney

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Ralph Keeney reveals his simple process for making wiser decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three steps to making better decisions
  2. How to gain extreme clarity on your best options
  3. How to quickly move past indecision

About Ralph

Ralph L. Keeney has made significant contributions to the fields of decision analysis and value-focused thinking. He is a consultant, an award winning author, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

He lives in San Francisco where he consults on business, organizational, and government decisions in the United States and overseas.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, Sponsors!

Ralph Keeney Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ralph, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Ralph Keeney
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat with you, and you consulted on many decisions. Can you share with us one of the most, I don’t know, unique, or funny, or zany, or, in some ways, standout decisions that you consulted on? What’s the story?

Ralph Keeney
Well, in a sense, some of the biggest and maybe zany ones are usually for governments or large agencies.

Pete Mockaitis
Those zany governments.

Ralph Keeney
Did a lot of work on evaluating sites in the United States for a nuclear waste storage site, and that was quite a while ago. And once, I’m looking at long-term energy policy for Germany where we involved many, many stakeholders in Germany. And that included talking to leaders in both the Catholic and Protestant churches, and in many of the organizations that were big companies in Germany as representatives of them, and then to just normal citizens about what they wanted from the entire energy policy for all of Germany.

Pete Mockaitis
And were there any breakthrough moments that really were pivotal?

Ralph Keeney
I think there were some important ones because we had a lot of people evaluate some of the alternatives intuitively. And then we helped them systematically break their evaluation into parts and put them together. So, we had two kind of evaluations from many of the participants and we pointed out the distinctions between kind of their intuitive in the head judgment of the whole thing, what was the best thing to do, versus the more carefully thought out.

And then we said, “So, now that you know both of your responses, choose what you think is appropriate.” And most of them ended up about two-thirds of the way from their intuition to their more systematically thought-out judgments. And I think that spirit holds for a lot of personal decisions. We use intuition all the time, and we should. But if we think about it a little more carefully on decisions worthy of thought, we often come up with something different. And I think it’s often closer to when they put the parts together and decide what to do to follow their well-thought-out judgments and decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. And I’d love it if you could maybe share, is there a particularly surprising or fascinating consistent discovery you’ve encountered about decision-making that has come from your many years of working through them?

Ralph Keeney
Well, I can share a simple thing that came through some of that and it’s very basic. The only purposeful way you can influence anything in your life, at work, or your personal life, is through the decisions that you make. Now, a lot of people, when I say that, they say, “Well, I don’t think that’s true. If I decide to eat much more responsibly, that’s going to improve my life,” or, “If I exercise routinely, I’ll get in a little better shape, that will certainly improve my life.”

And I say, “All those are correct but none of that will happen unless you make the decisions to think about it, choose to do what is done, and then follow through on doing what you need to do to complete it.” So, it is the decisions, and that’s basically the thing that enables you to have some control over your life and offers you that control.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup, absolutely. That adds up to me. Well, cool. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about your process. And I’d love it if maybe we could start with a story in terms of someone who was struggling with a difficult decision and then they put a few of your particular suggestions or process or skills to the test, and came out with a cool outcome. Could you share such a story?

Ralph Keeney
I can but I’ll just start with one comment. How did we learn to make decisions? And the point is none of us learned how to make decisions. We just picked it up. We started very, very young. You’re hungry, so how do you communicate that? You holler. It’s maybe not such a conscious decision, and obviously the words are not known, but those were many of our actions when were very young. And decision-making is a skill but most of us have never learned it as a skill. In fact, we’ve never learned how to make decisions. It’s all picked up and it comes with some useful techniques that we all use. And it also comes with a large number of cognitive biases and shortcomings that we take that degrade the quality of our decisions.

So, to get to your point, let me give a rather simple decision but important that all of us probably have faced. It could be you have an opportunity to have a dinner with somebody very important in your company that might even help your job, or with somebody in another company where you might be interested in a job, and you’ve never met them,.

You’re excited. You think about, “What do I hope the dinner is?” And it’s, well, convenient restaurant to the hotel the guest is in, quality food and local cuisine, and you go to the hotel and ask the concierge, “Do you have a restaurant like this nearby?” Well, of course, they do, two blocks away, so you make a reservation. The important person comes, you’re excited, you meet them at the restaurant, you go in, the food is tremendous, but the evening is a disaster. It was way too noisy, you couldn’t have a good discussion, you didn’t learn much about them, and they hardly know who you are.

Now, that particular case could’ve been changed dramatically with a little bit of clear-thinking about the decision and, particularly, this example can illustrate the three fundamental components of every decision that are worthy of thought. And you might’ve not just chosen that restaurant, you might’ve asked for three or four restaurants nearby and just gone and looked at them the day before, or two days before, and you would’ve noticed that was way too noisy and you wouldn’t have chosen it, but maybe you still have though you didn’t do that, so you got the one alternative.

Before that then, you should think, “What are the objectives that I would have for the dinner?” Well, you certainly wanted to meet the person, that was stated. And so, maybe you should’ve recognized, “I want a good conversation and I need it to be quiet enough to do that.” Had you done that, you never would’ve chosen that restaurant.

And the third thing is it was perhaps the wrong decision problem. It wasn’t to find a place to eat. It really was to find a place where we can have a quality discussion that serves food. So, knowing the major objectives to get to know the person would’ve led you to a different alternative too. So, any of those three things – clarifying the decision you should address, better identifying what you hope to achieve, i.e., your objectives, or coming up with a few more alternatives to compare – would’ve led to a much better decision. Any one of those things.

And each of those is a piece of information relevant to your decision. It improves your insight about it and your ability to make a better choice. And I refer to that using the word that the behavioral economists use – a nudge. Each piece of information nudges you to make a better decision. In their work, and Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for his work on that in 2017 for his book with Cass Sunstein, Nudge. But their nudges are when someone else nudges you in your decision. And these types of nudges that I just referred to are when you nudge yourself by giving a useful piece of information to make a better choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, that’s cool. So, we got three fundamentals there – clarifying, then identify the objectives, and having a few more options. The previewing or sampling the venues in advance, does that fit under of the three or is that under a fourth?

Ralph Keeney
Well, I think that’s kind of looking for alternatives. I think that’s one of the three.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, part of the alternative-seeking process. Okay. Cool. Certainly. Well, yeah, that’s great in terms of what you didn’t anticipate. And I think about this, I think, my decisions a lot when it comes to just like purchasing stuff in, like, Amazon.com, “What am I ordering? And why am I choosing this thing over that thing?”

And I think of returns, I find returns kind of painful actually. It’s like, one, it’s just a little bit of a pain, but, literally, in terms of just spending the time. And, two, it just feels like, “This is an acknowledgement that I did not make the optimal decision I had hoped. This thing I got did not work out the way I was hoping for it to.” But it’s fine. It’s somewhat easy to return. You iterate and you try again.

But, yeah, I think that’s dead-on in terms of that previewing or sampling can tell you a whole lot in all kinds of things because sometimes you have no alternative but to try it on for size and do a little bit of a demo or a trial or a sample or an iteration to get you where you want to go a few steps away instead of in one giant leap.

Ralph Keeney
Right. That’s true. And the other thing is once you get your decision clear with those three steps, of course, you don’t know how well the various alternatives measure up in terms of each of your objectives. That’s the second part of decision-making. Often, some clear thought about it can help you a great deal, and that’s the case with buying products online.

You can’t actually see a lot of the detail, you don’t know how they might look from various positions, and the nice thing you want to look good, where it is in your kitchen or in your office, etc., and you want it to function in certain ways that might be mentioned but it doesn’t do what you want. And you can’t get that information unless you see it, so that you buy it knowing you can return it is fine.

Now, if you’ve signed up for a vacation that’s expensive and you can’t know everything that’s going to happen there, especially if it’s a group vacation, some kind of tour or something, you’re committed and there’s going to be, as with all important decisions, uncertainties about how well the chosen alternative will measure up, or any of the other alternatives that you didn’t choose. And we make those decisions with the uncertainties there, doing the best we can. And you can have, of course, a good decision but the outcome isn’t so great.

It happens all the time in the market, but in everything in life. If there’s three different products you could invest in, and you carefully think about it and get all the information available then, no one knows for sure how well each of those products will do in the next couple of years, and yet you make a decision on, dead-on, which one will do better. And if you’ve made the decision with the best information available, and it doesn’t turn out to be the best one after the fact, you made the right decision, it’s just that it wasn’t the one that turned out to be the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. We had Annie Duke on the show and we discussed that phenomenon as well, is you may have made an optimal decision, even though the outcome is not what you desired.

Ralph Keeney
Yeah, there are just different things, and it happens to everybody all the time in life. And if it didn’t, you wouldn’t do a single thing because, with anything, there’s the chance that it doesn’t work out great. And I should say, as well as not doing anything has a lot of negative consequences.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Doing nothing is a decision in and of itself even though we don’t maybe think of it as such. Well, maybe now, could you maybe walk us through a demonstration of your decision-making process, step-by-step, with an example?

Ralph Keeney
Sure. Now, I should say one doesn’t have to do all these steps. That’s important. Because if you get one nudge, sometimes, like for that restaurant decision, you figure out, “I need a quiet place where I can have a great conversation,” and then you walk in two or three other restaurants, and one just really clearly meets that, that’s going to be the best place. You’re done. You don’t need to figure out more alternatives or even too many more objectives. The price, you maybe care about a little bit, but it’s just swamped compared to the importance of having a great discussion.

So, you don’t have to do all of the steps. But the first step, you want to make sure you’re addressing the decision that you want to address. In this aft, there’s a lot of shortcomings just in this one. And the reason is decisions come, like your car might be in an accident and you didn’t cause it but it’s damaged badly, and it’s an old car. Now, a lot of people will say, “Oh, now I got to get the car fixed,” and the first thing they would think of is, “Where can I get it fixed?” and they maybe have a routine place or an alternative if they take it there, and they’re done.

But in that situation, maybe they should’ve thought, “You know, that’s an old car and it’s going to cost almost as much as it’s worth just to fix it. Maybe I should get a different car, a better used car, or a new car, or maybe I should even go without a car for a while,” depending where you live, “and rent a car only when I need it.” So, it could change the decision that you should address by thinking more clearly and not rushing to kind of get it over with because it is a problem.

And then the second thing is you want to think, “What are the objectives that I have for that?” And it’s surprising perhaps, but most people often don’t identify a large number of their important objectives. An important example, it’s certainly relevant to all the people with jobs, is a study I did some years ago with a couple colleagues with the entire MBA class in their first year at a university in the east, and there were roughly 300 students in the first-year class.

And in between their first and second years, they have an internship at a company. About 30% to 40% actually get their job out of their MBA in those companies but they want to check out new areas in the country, new types of businesses, all kinds of things. And so, when I went to give the seminar on some of the topics we’re talking about here, I said, “I’ll be very happy to do it, but I want to have some questionnaires that they fill out.” And they were asked to fill them out, and they’ve done this homework assignments so people really thought about them somewhat.

And one of them was, “What are the objectives you had for your internship?” And the students wrote their objectives down, and it’s like, to learn a lot about a new field, see another part of the country, learn special things about how businesses work, meet some people in this field, all kinds of things. The average number of objectives, or values could be the word, things that they would care about in selecting it, turned out to be about 6.5.

Independently then, my colleagues that I’m working with, we thought about the objectives from knowing a lot of MBAs and things, and we created what we thought was a pretty full list because we put everybody’s objectives in that they had. We had 32 objectives once we cleaned them up.

So, later on in the survey of the students, showed them those 32 objectives, and said, “Check any of these that matter to you,” and they checked, on average, 20 objectives. So, they got six on their own, which were six of the 32, and they added 14 more. And you might think that the importance of the six they got were much more important than the 14 that they then identified on our list. So, we had a later question that showed them everything that they either got on their own or came from the list in a different order.

And so, we said, “Rate the importance of these on a scale from 1 to 9.” And the average importance of the ones they got on their own and the ones they missed and later picked up was almost identical, 6.21 compared to 6.28. That result happens all the time. It’s very hard to come up with all your objectives. If somebody asks somebody, “Write down your objectives,” they’ll be done writing in two minutes for a decision that they have.

And on decisions that are important, like that one certainly is, it’s worthwhile thinking about it a little bit over time and coming up with a better set because just recognizing one or two more objectives could eliminate an alternative that you might’ve chosen because it’s just not going to be good on something that you hadn’t thought of but is important, or it might suggest an alternative that you hadn’t thought of that would be great on that, and then, of course, it’s going to help you choose the best of the ones that are competitors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is intriguing. So, we have smart MBA students and thinking about a decision that matters a lot to them, career-related – MBA students tend to be into that – and we can list, on average, 6.5, unprompted from our own, generating it from our own thoughts, versus when selecting from a list, we would select 20. So, it’s like a third. It’s like we only get, can generate about a third of what matters from our own heads. That’s kind of startling.

And so then, I’m thinking, “Boy, what’s the antidote to this? Is it just like we need to have directories of checklists for all sorts of various and sundry decisions we might need to make?” It’s like, “When you’re considering your career, think about this. When you’re considering a product, think about that,” because, in some ways, it’s hard to anticipate every objective or value in advance but, apparently, we need some help and some prompts to get a full list.

Ralph Keeney
You’re absolutely right. And there are a lot of those prompts and you certainly want to use them.

Pete Mockaitis
Where can I go to get them?

Ralph Keeney
Well, there are two places that I know. One is I wrote a book on a lot of details on these three things called Give Yourself a Nudge: Helping Smart People Make Smarter Personal and Business Decisions. And things in there, I mean, one chapter is on how to really do a better job getting all the objectives you want. And I should say I missed some of my objectives on decisions too even though I do this, but I do a better job than I would if I was not aware of what can stimulate ideas that will help a lot.

And things that can really help you include, think of what emotions and feelings that you have relevant to this decision. And then from those emotions, kind of pursue, “Well, why do I care about that?” Because a way to stimulate the thinking is not necessarily, I don’t use the term objective then. It sounds technical. I say, “What do you care about concerning this decision? And anything you care about matters. Write it down.”

And then there’s no definition that’s kind of narrow to care about so they don’t think, “Oh, I’m not sure if this thing is something I care about or not.” They know. Whereas, objective, they might say, “I’m not sure that’s really an objective.” You don’t want to worry about technicalities then. So, any feelings matter. And then you think of any alternatives, just a few, and think of a terrible alternative. And then, “Why is it terrible?” There’s got to be something you care about. Think of what would be a perfect alternative, hypothetically, if it just existed. People can describe, “Why is it perfect? What makes it so great?” Those are going to suggest things too.

And then you can think of what might be goals or constraints, either one. Ask, “Well, what constraints do you have here?” And somebody might say, “Well, I wouldn’t want to pay more than a thousand dollars for that.” Well, that suggests that one of their concerns is the cost of the product, which is true for many things if you’re purchasing. You don’t want to use the constraints to say, “No alternatives over a thousand dollars,” because if you got one that’s fantastic for $1,010, and the $970 one, which met that constraint, was really much inferior, likely you would pay the $40 more. So, it indicates what’s important but you don’t want to use them inappropriately.

And then you think of disappointment and regret, “What could really disappoint me here?” Well, why would that disappoint you? What’s the mechanism? And how does it get back to, again, characteristics of the product or whatever it is that you’re going to purchase?” So, all these things can stimulate your mind to think a bit more clearly about what’s there. You want to do your own thinking first.

And then, for certain decisions, like important work decisions, or if you were thinking of moving divisions in an organization or something, once you thought about what was important to you, makes a lot of sense to talk to some of your colleagues there about what they think might be important to you, and, separately, about what would be important to them if they were making this decision, because each of those comments kind of stimulates them to think a little differently and anything they come up might help you think of something that’s important to you that you had missed.

So, it’s a lot of things you could do, and people would develop their own techniques. And then, for certain decisions, if you have an important medical decision, you know the basis of what you want, “Well, I want to get well. I’d like to minimize time where I’m incapacitated in some sense,” and the cost might be important there. But there might be some aspects, or consequences in the future about aspects of your health or your functionality of your body that you wouldn’t have any idea to even think mattered.

So, you might need to talk on some problems that are more complex from a particular field to experts in that field, but you’re going to have to ask them what the objectives are. Just to show you how important, and one simple example is a medical one. On many important medical decisions, like if somebody has a cancer case or anything like that, I think, partly because of the responsibility and role of decisions, they would say the objectives is to increase the chance that you live or perhaps that you live longer. But what they don’t include is what affects many people, the quality of their life when they’re living longer.

If somebody were 70 years old, and it looked like you could go through all this treatment but it was so horrendous and you had to follow things, but you’d live an average of 12 years, or you could not go through the treatment and have a much better time and your average expected lifetime was 10 years, a lot of people, and I’ve asked this question, would prefer 10 years of a quality life, from a basis of 70, to 12 years of a really degraded life. That’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Ralph, so much good stuff to chew on here. And I very much like your approach better than having an endless compendium of checklist that I need to reference, but rather generating your own ones emotionally, “What do I care about? Why? What would be a terrible alternative? Why is that a terrible alternative? What will be the perfect alternative? Why is that a perfect alternative? What are the goals?”

This reminds me of some of like the best coaching questions, really drive at these sorts of things, like, “What do you really want? And what else? Or, what does wild success look like? Or, imagine we’re looking back at the end of this, and it was a smashing victory or a smashing defeat, what happened and why?” That begins to surface it. And then I love it, once you get a nice list to start from, you can check in with somebody else and they can build up and develop it. And I like that question a lot, “What would be important to you if you were thinking through this?” and that very well could be something completely different.

I guess I’m thinking a lot of times with career decisions, I think there’s some research, maybe you know better than I, Ralph, there is some research that suggest that we could sometimes be shortsighted in terms of thinking about this one opportunity as opposed to what pathway does it lead us down into the next job, or the next, next job, or the next, next, job, over five, ten years in progression and pathways. But that’s something someone else, who’s been in the game, may very well flag for you, and so that’s cool.

And, Ralph, is there a magic number? Like, let’s say if a decision really counts big time, I imagine we’re going to be getting some diminishing returns in terms of if we talk to, I don’t know, two people, five people, 20 people, to get their input. Is there a sweet spot or point of diminishing returns you recommend when it comes to advisors or counselors?

Ralph Keeney
Well, sure, but it might depend on what the decision was. There are two things related to that one. You don’t want to make perfect decisions, whatever that would be. It would take you way, way too long. Or, I should even say always try to make the best decision. If that just means, “I do my best given the time available and appropriate for the decision,” that’s fine. But if it means, “I’m going to search till I find the best alternative,” it’s usually nutty. It takes way, way too much of your time, and it’s the same issue I just mentioned.

You degrade the quality of your life because all you’re doing is procrastinating and worrying about this decision and trying to do better. Whereas, if you would’ve just made the decision earlier with what you knew, it might’ve been a pretty good decision, and then you have time to enjoy your life. It’s worthwhile breaking life, with this point, into two things. The time you spend making decisions and the time you spend enjoying life as a result of your decisions.

And enjoying life could be doing work on problems in your company too because that’s interesting and it’s stimulating, etc., but, per se, that’s just getting useful information. The decision per se, you don’t want to spend everything making decisions. You want to spend, the overall thing is to have a productive and enjoyable life that contributes to you, your family, friends, and country, and whatever your objectives are. And that should guide all the uses of your time.

Now, there’s one other really key thing a lot of people don’t think of or that have a lot of control, and you think, “Where do decisions come from?” Well, a lot of them come from problems. And the easiest place to put it is personally, “If I get sick, I have a decision problem. I have to do something about it. If my car is an accident, I got a decision problem. I need to do something. If I’m not doing very well at work, I got a decision problem. I need to deal with it.” And all these are basically a consequence of other’s decisions or circumstances, like you got sick or a car wreck or somebody assigns you something. And often they’re problems.

And when those happen, the quality of your life drops a little. No one wants to be sick or have your car wrecked or not doing well at work. And so, you try to make the decisions to improve them to get back to where you were before these problems occurred, but you typically don’t give above where you were. The only way to get a better life is through what I call decision opportunities, not decision problems. And these are the decisions you create for yourself rather than the decisions that are, in a sense, dumped upon you by others or happenstance.

And if you’re at work, you can think of, “How could I contribute more to the organization?” And you want to think of yourself because there are two objectives in any decision in the company, I think, or an organization, “How can I contribute more to the organization? And how can I contribute to my life?” And you, that’s your decision, you think of, “What could I do that would do both of these?”

And I’ve certainly been in a situation that works when I went to a consulting firm in San Francisco. I said to the boss, there are 700 people there, and I said, “I think my responsibilities are to contribute professionally and financially to the firm. And subject to that, there’s no other constraints on me. Is that a correct representation?” And my prospective boss, executive vice president in the organization kind of sat up straight and thought about it, he’s never heard that before, and he said, “Yeah, I guess that’s about right.”

Pete Mockaitis
And, in a way, the law, please.

Ralph Keeney
And I could do that because I could bring in work where I work on decisions so they’d make money, and I think I could do that work well, and publish it and contribute to the reputation and knowledge of the skills of the company. And I knew it and they knew it, and then I could do anything I wanted. Not stupid stuff. It’s not like I had hours where I couldn’t take a time off any time I wanted it, because I made sure that I was definitely contributing more than I was taking, which was the pay.

And so, these decision opportunities at work, you can go. And in this firm, sometimes I’d go. There are all kinds of tasks that need to be done in any firm, and some of them your boss might do or others, and you think, “Gee, I might like to learn how to do that.” You can propose to do a task that your boss maybe spends four hours on a week to do and it’s a little boring for him or her. So, you say, “I’m willing to do that,” and learn how to do it and do it well. They might be very happy and you can often get out of something that’s four or even six hours a week that’s less important to the firm and a lot more boring by making this proposal. It’s better for you and better for the firm.

And that’s what you want to do to figure out decision opportunities or something to be pursued that really help your life at work or personally.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Well, now, I’d love to shift gears and hear a few of your favorite things. Could you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ralph Keeney
I think what really inspires me is people who think about what they really want and put in very good efforts to achieve those things. And some of the simplest cases is when what people want are kind of straightforward.

So, people who basically think about what they want, put in the effort, do their best, and achieve a lot of what they want inspire me a great deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Ralph Keeney
Well, the ones that really influence me, a few books on decision-making by people really starting in the field. And I guess one was a while ago by Howard Raiffa called Decision Analysis but was really starting the movement away from intuitive thinking into prescriptive thinking. There was a lot of work done descriptively. And then descriptively, I think one of the best books is the one I mentioned called Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ralph Keeney
An easy way to find out more about me is, and there’s things on there not about me, is just my homepage, so to speak, it’s RalphKeeney.com, no point in between Ralph and Keeney. It describes a lot of things. It has an awful lot of references there. And there’s one other thing that soon will be coming out by Oji Life Lab. OJI is Oji Life Labs, and it’s separate words that you can find at searching. It’s a product in beta testing that has an awful lot of the fundamental ideas to help people make better decisions at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Ralph Keeney
And it’s done in a unique way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, Ralph, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you all the best in all your decisions.

Ralph Keeney
Well, thank you. I’ll work on it and I hope that you and some of your listeners got some useful points here, and also make some great decisions, or better decisions as a result of it. We can all do better, and I’m certainly one of those. So, thank you very much, Pete.